.% population and 11.1% of the Champaign
County population have Limited English Proficiency. This
means that a growing number of people in our community
face the danger of being unable to adequately communicate
with health care providers. Failure on the part of health care
facilities to provide interpreters and other language services
may result in an inability to access needed health
care, misdiagnosis, unnecessary or inappropriate
testing and treatment, less frequent use of primary
and preventive care services and more frequent visits
to the emergency room, and sometimes even death
from medical error and miscommunication.
Champaign County Health Care Consumers
(CCHCC) became concerned with the growing
number of calls to our Consumer Health Hotline from local
immigrants about inadequate interpreter services at local
health care facilities. We are aware that too many people in
our community have faced significant barriers to accessing
health care and have suffered injury, illness, and inappropriate
treatment as a result of inadequate language services at our
local hospitals and other major clinics.
In response, we have launched a new campaign for
improved hospital interpreter services. The campaign hopes to
identify major areas of concern for patients with Limited English
Proficiency, educate consumers about their right to language
services in health care facilities, and initiate collaboration
with local health care providers to improve these services.
As Alejandra Coronel, CCHCC volunteer and immigrant
from Venezuela, says: “Health care is a basic human right. It is
what maintains our life in times of injury and illness. When
we, as immigrants, cannot access health care because of language
barriers, we are made to feel less human, less deserving
of our lives and our wellness than non-immigrants, when we
contribute to and love this community as much as any other
Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination
based on race, color, or national origin by any person
or institution receiving federal funding for programs or activities.
The federal government and the courts have determined
that the prohibition of discrimination based on national origin
includes protections for people of different nationalities
who do not speak English well.
In health care settings, this means that providers who
receive federal funding (such as Medicare and Medicaid) must
work to ensure that patients with limited English skills have
meaningful access to any program services and benefits that
are offered to other patients. This includes virtually all hospitals,
clinics, doctor’s offices, nursing homes, managed care
organizations, state Medicaid agencies, and home health care
agencies. Further, the Title VI protections extend to all the
operations of the organization or business, not just those
departments or patients for which they receive federal funding.
More specifically, the Office of Civil Rights requires all
recipients of federal funding to:
1. Provide translation services at no cost to the Limited
English Proficient (LEP) individual.
2. Have written policies regarding language access services
and staff who are aware of the policies.
3. Determine the language needs of prospective patients at
the earliest possible opportunity.
4. Systematically track LEP clients and clients’ needs.
5. Identify a single individual or department charged with
ensuring the provision of language-accessible services.
6. Provide written notices to clients in their primary
language informing them of their right to receive
7. Not use minors to translate.
8. Use family and friends as translators only as a last
resort and only with informed consent.
9. Ensure the availability of a sufficient number or
qualified interpreters on a 24-hour basis – including
10. Use only qualified and trained interpreters with
demonstrated proficiency in both English and the other language,
knowledge of specialized terms and concepts in both
languages, and the ethics of interpreting.
These services must be provided to all patients with Limited
English Proficiency, not just those patients who are recipients
of Medicare,Medicaid, and Kid Care.
Are YOU Getting the Interpreter and Language Services
Have you, or someone you know, ever needed health care
– Not been provided an interpreter by the health care provider?
– Been provided an inadequate or untrained interpreter?
– Had to rely on a family member or minor to interpret?
– Been denied care because you do not speak English well?
– Been treated rudely because you do not speak English well?
– Suffered greater illness or injury because of language barriers
If so, or if you want to support the effort to bring more and
higher quality interpreter services to our local health care system,
then we need you to get involved!
For more information, to report a personal account of
inadequate interpreter or other language services in the health
care system, or to get involved in community efforts to
address these problems, contact Champaign County Health
Care Consumers at (217) 352-6533 or at
Brooke Anderson is a Community Organizer
for Champaign County Health Care
Consumers. Brooke was the lead organizer
on CCHCC’s recent statewide legislative
victory mandating contraceptive coverage
in all health insurance plans with prescription
coverage in the state of Illinois, and
now works on a variety of health care justice issues for CCHCC.