Hospital Administrators: Few In Compliance With Language Requirements

Tue, 02/15/2011 - 3:45am

A new report, The New Joint Commission Standards for Patient-Centered Care is co-authored by two former language experts/hospital administrators in conjunction with Language Line Services. It calls attention to the lack of compliance with language access requirements for patients with limited English language proficiency. The report details the challenges ahead as healthcare organizations struggle to provide necessary language access services and integrate these new and revised standards into their day-to-day operations.

"Poor communication leads to poor care," said Oscar Arocha, a 25-year industry veteran and former director of the largest interpreter services department in the nation at Boston Medical Center. "The problem is that few hospitals have taken the necessary steps to comply." Communication breakdowns are responsible for nearly 3,000 unexpected deaths each year, according to The Joint Commission. The majority of these breakdowns are for limited English speakers. Already, more than 50 million people - or approximately one in six residents - speak a language other than English at home, and today's ethnic minority is projected to become the majority by 2042.

The aim of the new and revised regulations announced in 2009 is to improve patient-provider communication and ensure patient safety. The standards are already in place as of January 1, but do not impact accreditation during the year-long pilot phase. These regulations require proof of interpreter training and fluency competence for interpreters in spoken languages as well as American Sign Language (ASL) for Deaf and Hard of Hearing patients.

"The Joint Commission expects hospitals to demonstrate a greater commitment to language services and cultural competency for all its limited English proficient and deaf patients, and it is giving hospitals one year to prepare," said co-author of the report Deborah Yvette Moore, who served 32 years as manager of the Parkland Health and Hospital System.

The Joint Commission is an independent, non-profit organization that surveys and accredits hospitals and other healthcare institutions across the country via unscheduled accreditation surveys. The new report can be found at


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