One in Three Los Angeles County Residents Face Language Barriers That Could Make It More Difficult To Navigate Health Care System, New Report Finds
A new report indicates that one-third of Los Angeles County residents face language barriers, prompting some advocates to call for more language services, particularly in the health care system, the Los Angeles Times reports.
The report, issued on Thursday by the Asian Pacific American Legal Center in Los Angeles, looked at data from the 2000 census. According to the report, most residents in five of the county's eight service planning areas -- which the county uses to plan and deliver health and social services -- speak a language other than English at home. The report said that the top languages other than English are Spanish, Chinese, Tagalog, Korean, Armenian, Vietnamese, Persian, Japanese and Russian.
Advocates said that a lack of adequate language services can result in delayed care, misdiagnoses and unnecessary procedures, which could lead to death. Karin Wang, vice president of programs at the Asian Pacific Center, said, "We want to shine a spotlight on how large a problem this is," adding, "We don't want language to be the reason people don't get quality health care."
Forty-nine percent of the 3.9 million patient visits handled by the county Department of Health Services in 2006 involved people with limited English-language skills, the Times reports. Spanish speakers accounted for the vast majority of such visits, with 1.9 million visits, followed by those who speak Korean, accounting for 17,000 patient visits, according to the Times.
Miya Iwataki, director of diversity programs for the county Department of Health Services, said the county has improved its language services since 2007. The county is hiring nine full-time medical interpreters for its four public hospitals, the first time that such staff has been dedicated to the facilities.
In addition, the county has expanded its use of a videoconferencing system that links patients and physicians to interpreters and continues to use a telephone interpretation system.
Iwataki said the possibility of budget cuts in Los Angeles County could affect efforts to further expand language assistance services (Watanabe, Los Angeles Times, 3/21).
The report is available online (.pdf).