California Health and Safety Code Section 1259

1259. (a) (1) The Legislature finds and declares that California is becoming a land of people whose languages and cultures give the state a global quality. The Legislature further finds and declares that access to basic health care services is the right of every resident of the state, and that access to information regarding basic health care services is an essential element of that right.

(2) Therefore, it is the intent of the Legislature that when language or communication barriers exist between patients and the staff of any general acute care hospital, arrangements shall be made for interpreters or bilingual professional staff to ensure adequate and speedy communication between patients and staff.

(b) As used in this section:

(1) Interpreter means a person fluent in English and in the necessary second language, who can accurately speak, read, and readily interpret the necessary second language, or a person who can accurately sign and read sign language. Interpreters shall have the ability to translate the names of body parts and to describe competently symptoms and injuries in both languages. Interpreters may include members of the medical or professional staff.

(2) Language or communication barriers means:

(A) With respect to spoken language, barriers that are experienced by individuals who are limited-English-speaking or non-English-speaking individuals who speak the same primary language and who comprise at least 5 percent of the population of the geographical area served by the hospital or of the actual patient population of the hospital. In cases of dispute, the state department shall determine, based on objective data, whether the 5 percent population standard applies to a given hospital.

(B) With respect to sign language, barriers that are experienced by individuals who are deaf and whose primary language is sign language.

(c) To ensure access to health care information and services for limited-English-speaking or non-English-speaking residents and deaf residents, licensed general acute care hospitals shall:

(1) Review existing policies regarding interpreters for patients with limited-English proficiency and for patients who are deaf, including the availability of staff to act as interpreters.

(2) (A) (i) Adopt and review annually a policy for providing language assistance services to patients with language or communication barriers. The policy shall include procedures for providing, to the extent possible, as determined by the hospital, the use of an interpreter whenever a language or communication barrier exists, except when the patient, after being informed of the availability of the interpreter service, chooses to use a family member or friend who volunteers to interpret. The procedures shall be designed to maximize efficient use of interpreters and minimize delays in providing interpreters to patients. The procedures shall ensure, to the extent possible, as determined by the hospital, that interpreters are available, either on the premises or accessible by telephone, 24 hours a day.

(ii) The hospital shall, on or before July 1, 2016, and every January 1 thereafter, make the updated policy and a notice of availability of language assistance services available to the public on its Internet Web site. The notice shall be in English and in the other languages most commonly spoken in the hospital s service area. For purposes of this paragraph, the hospital shall make the notice available in the language of individuals who meet the definition of having a language barrier pursuant to subparagraph (A) of paragraph (2) of subdivision (b); however, a hospital is not required to make the notice available in more than five languages other than English.

(B) (i) The hospital shall, on or before July 1, 2016, and every January 1 thereafter, transmit to the department a copy of the updated policy and shall include a description of its efforts to ensure adequate and speedy communication between patients with language or communication barriers and staff.

(ii) The department shall make the updated policy available to the public on its Internet Web site.

(3) Develop, and post in conspicuous locations, notices that advise patients and their families of the availability of interpreters, the procedure for obtaining an interpreter and the telephone numbers where complaints may be filed concerning interpreter service problems, including, but not limited to, a T.D.D. number for the hearing impaired. The notices shall be posted, at a minimum, in the emergency room, the admitting area, the entrance, and in outpatient areas. Notices shall inform patients that interpreter services are available upon request, shall list the languages for which interpreter services are available, shall instruct patients to direct complaints regarding interpreter services to the state department, and shall provide the local address and telephone number of the state department, including, but not limited to, a T.D.D. number for the hearing impaired.

(4) Identify and record a patient s primary language and dialect on one or more of the following: patient medical chart, hospital bracelet, bedside notice, or nursing card.

(5) Prepare and maintain as needed a list of interpreters who have been identified as proficient in sign language and in the languages of the population of the geographical area serviced who have the ability to translate the names of body parts, injuries, and symptoms.

(6) Notify employees of the hospital s commitment to provide interpreters to all patients who request them.

(7) Review all standardized written forms, waivers, documents, and informational materials available to patients upon admission to determine which to translate into languages other than English.

(8) Consider providing its nonbilingual staff with standardized picture and phrase sheets for use in routine communications with patients who have language or communication barriers.

(9) Consider developing community liaison groups to enable the hospital and the limited-English-speaking and deaf communities to ensure the adequacy of the interpreter services.

(d) Noncompliance with this section shall be reportable to licensing authorities.

(e) Section 1290 shall not apply to this section.

(Amended by Stats. 2015, Ch. 327, Sec. 1. Effective January 1, 2016.)

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Last modified: September 9, 2016