Language access in our health care system has long been a point of emphasis for our work at CPEHN. For example, in 2003, CPEHN sponsored SB 853 (Escutia), the Health Care Language Assistance Act. The first of its kind in the country, this law now holds health plans accountable for the provision of linguistically-appropriate services.
The reason that laws like SB 853 and other language access measures are necessary is because of California’s uniquely diverse population. As you can see in our Friday Facts table, over 40 different languages are spoken in San Diego County alone.
San Diego County has a large (92,836) Tagalog-speaking population, and roughly 2 out of every 5 of these individuals are Limited English Proficient (LEP), meaning they speak English less than very well. Almost two-thirds of the county’s large Vietnamese-speaking population is LEP, as is half of all those who speak Chinese. The county is also home to over 320,000 Spanish-speakers who are LEP.
Such large numbers of LEP individuals in San Diego County shows the importance of providing linguistically accessible services. Navigating the health care system is challenging enough when you receive services in your primary language, imagine how difficult it would be with a language barrier.
Below is a press release sent out today by Assemblymember Ed Chau's office introducing a bill that CPEHN is sponsoring. Be sure to check back here on our blog for updates on this important legislation in the coming months!
Sacramento — Today, Assemblymember Ed Chau (D-Monterey Park) introduced AB 389, which would direct a general acute hospital to post its language assistance policy for limited-English proficient (LEP) individuals online and require the California Department of Public Health and the Office of Statewide Planning and Development to post this information on their websites, as well.
“For many Californian’s who are not proficient in English, the lack of culturally and linguistically appropriate staff and services remains a major barrier to accessing adequate healthcare,” said Assemblymember Chau. “Failure to provide language access can lead to serious consequences, such as higher rates of hospitalization, drug complications, and not returning for follow-ups after an emergency room visit.”
California’s Kopp Act requires all hospitals in the state to file a copy of their language assistance policy, and annual updates, with the Department of Public Health (DPH). The intent is to ensure that every resident, regardless of language capability, can access health services in a hospital setting. However, hospitals currently submit their policies and procedures to the respective DPH Licensing and Certification District Office. Having the policies spread out makes it difficult for policymakers and the public to access them and to ensure the appropriate protections and practices set forth by the State are being adhered to. AB 389 would provide greater transparency and oversight of the Kopp Act by centralizing this information to confirm that hospitals are complying with this key accountability measure and meeting the needs of LEP patients.