Friday, February 17, 2006

Non-English speakers find ERs hard to reach


People who speak limited English do not receive adequate access to emergency room services in Alameda County, and that compromises the quality of care they receive and can aggravate their health problems, according to a study released Wednesday.

More than half of testers speaking a language other than English were hung up on, rather than connected to a staff member or interpreter who could help them, according to the Discrimination Research Center.

Researchers said the results show the importance of hiring a multilingual workforce. Center director Monique Morris said telephone audits provide important data to replace largely anecdotal information available until now on language access.

"This is to help support the work of advocates and people who have long been working on language access, by providing empirical data," she said.

The center measured the availability of language services by conducting 551 tests at 12 Alameda County hospitals last year in English, Vietnamese, Cantonese, Tagalog and Spanish.

None of the testers who called speaking English were disconnected or hung up on, and the tester was never put on hold longer than 10 minutes.

Symptoms used in the scripts were serious enough to warrant medical attention but not urgent enough to trigger an ambulance to be dispatched. They included high fever with shortness of breath, high fever with a bad headache, and "bad diarrhea."

About 62 percent of calls in Vietnamese resulted in a hang-up or disconnection, and half the time, the hospital staff did not connect the caller to a Vietnamese speaker. Calls placed in Cantonese resulted in a hang-up 63 percent of the time


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