Lost in Translation: Hospitals Fail to Provide Interpreters
Korea Times, News Report, Seok Ho Lee, Translated by Aruna Lee
LOS ANGELES — A growing number of Korean Americans say they are dissatisfied with hospital interpreter services in the United States. Some claim language barriers have led to mistreatment by hospital staff, leading to worsening health conditions.
Federal law requires that hospitals provide interpreters to non-English speaking patients, particularly when the provider is unable to collect the patient's medical history, make medical decisions, or provide health care instructions.
A South Korean woman, Myung Hee Kim, 71, was admitted to a public hospital in Los Angeles after developing diabetes-related complications earlier this year. Although Kim complained of severe pain in her left shoulder, hospital staff administered pain relievers to her right shoulder, where there was no pain.
Kim's condition soon worsened, forcing her to be placed in intensive care. Her family later complained that the hospital neglected to provide interpreter services to Kim, who spoke no English.
"The hospital was irresponsible," said one of Kim's relatives. "As soon as they heard her speaking Korean they should have provided an interpreter, but they didn't."
Title six of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 stipulates that federal institutions must offer language assistance to persons with limited language proficiency, and that no person shall be subjected to discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin.
Korean American representatives at the UCLAMedicalCenter stress that medical interpretative services are guaranteed under Federal law, and therefore patients should request an interpreter when seeking health care.
In an another case, the family of a 97-year-old South Korean man says hospital staff tied both his hands to the bed frame after he complained of pain.
According to hospital representatives, the man caused a commotion after walking out of his room and speaking in a loud voice.
"My grandfather probably wanted to communicate something," says his grandson, "but because there was no interpreter hospital staff tied his hands to the bed instead of trying to figure out what was going on. It's very upsetting."