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J Healthc Manag. 2008 Mar-Apr;53(2):107-19; discussion 119-20.

Rural hospitals and Spanish-speaking patients with limited English proficiency.

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  • 1Consortium for Latino Immigration Studies, Arnold School of Public Health, University of South Carolina, Columbia, USA.


Between 1990 and 2000, the Latino population in the United States increased by 61 percent, becoming the largest minority group. Language differences contribute to patient safety and access to healthcare concerns for limited English proficiency (LEP) Latinos. The objectives of this research were to determine the techniques rural hospitals use to accommodate Spanish-speaking LEP patients, to identify strengths and barriers to providing language services, and to describe local approaches to language assistance services. Surveys were mailed to 841 hospitals in 544 rural counties with moderate to high Latino growth rates between 1990 and 2000. A total of 319 rural hospitals responded. Nearly all rural hospitals reported having tools to help patients communicate language needs. The most commonly used tools include brochures, language identification posters, and language identification cards. Strengths were institutional support for language assistance services, staff willingness to use interpreters, and access to telephone language lines. Principal barriers included lack of funding for interpreters, lack of local language training programs, and lack of state agency support. Hospitals that serve counties with higher Latino population growth rates reported higher demand for services compared with those counties with smaller Latino population growth rates. Several innovative approaches were also identified. Various language accommodation resources, tools, and strategies are available for hospitals to help them serve LEP clientele. Hospitals should routinely review their policies and procedures for language assistance services to ensure compliance with federal and Joint Commission standards.

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