Need A Medical Interpreter For Your Spanish-Speaking Parent? What Are Your Rights (And Options)?

If you've found yourself facing job-related sanctions for taking time off work to accompany your Spanish-speaking parent to medical appointments and hospital visits not covered by your own paid time off, you may be concerned that you'll find yourself unemployed if you take any additional time away from work. On the other hand, if your parent doesn't speak English well, he or she could leave these medical appointments having no idea what just took place—to his or her physical detriment. Read on to learn more about your parent's right to a Spanish interpreter during medical appointments, as well as what you can do to protect your parent's rights and ensure that he or she receives all the medical information needed to make an informed decision on future care.

What translation or interpretation services must medical providers make available?

Some states, like California, have enacted even stricter measures to require interpreters or translators in a variety of situations; but even if your state hasn't extended the federal protections, your parent still has the right to a medical interpreter under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 

This federal law provides protection against discrimination on the basis of immutable characteristics like race, sex, and national origin, and includes discrimination based on the inability to read or speak English. In addition, an executive order signed into law nearly two decades ago sought to strip federal funding from any hospitals that didn't make translation services available to patients; so any hospitals in your area that aren't fully private and do rely on some federal funding must have interpreters available upon request. 

This interpretation mandate is broad and covers tens of thousands (if not millions) of medical providers, but the implementation of the mandate can vary widely from place to place. In general, a patient or family member who doesn't speak English well should be provided with an interpreter for any interactions in which an interpreter is deemed necessary for "effective communication" to take place. The cost of these interpretation services can't be charged back to the patient in any way, nor can physicians threaten to charge a patient a higher rate if he or she requests this assistance.

Assuring effective communication doesn't necessarily mean "all communication" -- this can mean that your parent won't be required to be provided with an interpreter when picking up a regular prescription at the pharmacy, purchasing over-the-counter medication at a drug store, or undergoing a routine appointment, but must be afforded an interpreter when being apprised of test results or when your parent needs to make a decision on a treatment path. 

How can you make sure your parent has access to Spanish-speaking interpreters when he or she needs it?

If you're able to do a bit of preliminary research on your parent's most-visited hospitals and medical facilities, you should be able to compile a list of available resources for each location. Many hospitals and medical practices will include translation information on their websites or social media pages, giving the name(s) and contact information for anyone who can provide assistance on-site or a form to provide to a staff member to make this request official.

If you're not able to perform this research yourself or are having trouble finding any information on the relevant healthcare providers' websites, you may want to visit your state's Civil Rights Commission website to determine what additional laws may apply in your jurisdiction. Arming yourself (and your parent) with legal information on translation rights can go a long way toward securing compliance with these laws from the hospitals and health facilities in your area.

To learn more about how to get your parent the translation help they need, contact a company like the Language Banc.