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Atkins’ Bill For Medical Interpretation Study, Pilot Program Receives Brown’s OK

Photo by Nancee Lewis

San Diego Assemblywoman Toni Atkins speaks at the Westin Hotel in downtown San Diego, June 7, 2016.

Legislation signed by Gov. Jerry Brown on Sunday aims to improve medical interpretation services for patients with limited or no English proficiency, a move the City Heights community has requested for years.

The legislation introduced by San Diego Assemblywoman Toni Atkins calls for a study of the current translation services and a pilot program based on that review.

Special Feature Speak City Heights

Speak City Heights is a media collaborative aimed at amplifying the voices of residents in one of San Diego’s most diverse neighborhoods. (Read more)

The legislation introduced by Assemblywoman Toni Atkins, (D-San Diego) calls for a study on the current translation assistance available to Medi-Cal patients and a pilot program based on that review. Estimates show more than 70 percent of City Heights-area residents speak a language other than English at home, and nearly one-fifth of Californians report speaking English "less than very well," according to Census data.

Jama Mohamed, program director for the nonprofit United Women of East Africa, said the legislation is a step in the right direction.

"It if gives us an opportunity, this bill, to sort of review the process of medical interpretation and how they're doing interpretation, it's an opportunity for us to insert our input and show our dissatisfaction with what is already being done," Mohamed said in a phone interview.

He added that the nonprofit, along with the Karen Organization of San Diego and Somali Bantu Association of America, is conducting a quality review of medical interpretation services in the area. Under state law, public agencies must supply translation services for languages spoken by at least five percent of the population they serve.

RELATED: Refugees In City Heights Fight For Better Medical Translation

Atkins' bill, AB 635 orders the Department of Health Care Services to examine current interpretation requirements, make recommendations for improvement and launch a pilot program at up to four locations across the state.

The former assembly speaker praised the governor's action in a statement on her website.

“Too often, patients rely on family members — sometimes children — to help them communicate with their doctors. Providing patients and doctors with professional translators will improve healthcare for many Californians,” she said.

Assemblyman Rocky Chavez, (R-Oceanside) was among the few representatives who voted against the bill, but he was not immediately available for comment.

AB 635 doesn't authorize new funds but makes use of $3 million that was included in the latest fiscal year budget. An update on the progress is expected next year before the Legislature's budget committees.

Brown previously vetoed a measure that would established a system to reimburse facilities for providing in-person interpretation services.

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