221275 Planning and Implementing Language Assistance Services in a County Health Department: Challenges and Lessons Learned from San Mateo County, CA

Wednesday, November 10, 2010 : 8:45 AM - 9:00 AM

Joe Balabis, MPH, CPH , Health Policy and Planning, San Mateo County Health System, San Mateo, CA
Doris Y. Estremera, MPH , Health Policy & Planning Department, San Mateo County Health System, San Mateo, CA
Scott Morrow, MD, MPH, MBA , Health Officer, San Mateo County Health System, San Mateo, CA
Federal and state guidelines require healthcare providers to ensure limited English proficient (LEP) clients are provided language assistance when accessing services. In San Mateo County, CA, approximately 41% of County residents speak a language other than English at home. Based largely on community input, the San Mateo County Health System (SMCHS) developed a comprehensive Language Assistance Services program that all SMCHS staff can access. The program, through its contracted agencies, provides in-person oral and American Sign Language interpretation, document translation, and telephone interpretation services. These services are centrally managed within SMCHS and accessible through a phone number that any SMCHS staff can use. Additionally, two policies to address the growing needs of its LEP clients were developed and implemented. The policies focus on: 1) the right of clients to request free interpreter services, and 2) the prohibited use of minors as interpreters for family members, and discouraged use of any family members as interpreters. Planning and implementation for such a program at a county health department posed a number of challenges. Funding, health administration support and management of the program were all issues that needed to be addressed prior to program launch. After the program's inception, additional issues emerged. Ongoing staff education and training were necessary to ensure the program was used appropriately and correctly. The presence of a comprehensive Language Assistance Services program at SMCHS ensures equitable access to quality services for LEP San Mateo County residents.

Learning Areas:
Diversity and culture
Implementation of health education strategies, interventions and programs
Program planning
Public health or related laws, regulations, standards, or guidelines
Public health or related organizational policy, standards, or other guidelines

Learning Objectives:
Identify federal, state and local regulations that require a county health agency to adequately address the language needs of limited English proficient communities. Describe challenges involved in implementing language assistance programs at a county-level health agency. Apply the lessons learned to facilitate and overcome implementation barriers of similar language programs at other organizations or agencies.

Keywords: Access, Public Health Infrastructure

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I oversee the Language Assistance Services program at the San Mateo County Health System and provide staff trainings on how to access the services, and how to effectively work with interpreters.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.