NY new regulations govern language assistance

Hospitals must designate coordinator

The state of New York has taken a step toward ensuring consistency in the provision of language assistance services to hospital patients with limited English proficiency (LEP).

New state regulations that took effect recently require hospitals to designate a coordinator to oversee language assistance services and conduct annual needs assessments to identify English-speaking populations in their service areas. They also specify requirements for ongoing education and training concerning cultural and linguistic competence for employees with direct patient care contact.

The state health commissioner, meanwhile, has proposed patient interpreter services as part of the new regulations, including a requirement that hospitals statewide create and implement formal Language Assistance Programs (LAPs). The programs, according to the proposal, will assure appropriate communication with patients on treatment options, informed consent, discharge plans, and health care proxy decisions.

Under this expanded process, hospitals will discourage the use of family members, as well as individuals under age 16, as interpreters, except in emergency situations.

While many of New York's hospitals have implemented policies and protocols to provide communication assistance to patients, the new regulations will bring uniformity to the process in hospitals statewide, proponents say.

A proposal by state Health Commissioner Antonia C. Novella, MD, MPH, aimed at ensuring that the standard of care is being met and that patients' rights are being protected, would require the state's hospitals to do the following:

  • Create LAPs and name a language assistance coordinator who would oversee communication assistance services in the hospital and report to hospital administration;
  • Implement policies that will assure the patient's communication needs and language preference are identified, confirmed, and documented in the front page of his or her medical record during the initial hospital visit;
  • Post signage in entrance ways and common areas of the hospital offering free interpreter services;
  • Provide continuing education and training to staff on the importance of delivering culturally and linguistically competent services, as well as how to access interpreter services on behalf of patients; and
  • Conduct annual assessments of the linguistic needs of the population in the communities the hospital serves and evaluate whether those needs are being met.

Title IV of the Civil Rights Act and state regulations require hospitals to provide interpretation services to patients with difficulty speaking English or who have disabilities affecting their communication.