Language barriers in health care can be a catalyst to providing health care that fails to meet the accepted standard for that specialty, which Bangor injury attorneys know is how we measure medical malpractice. Maine is not known for being especially diverse, but gains over the last 50 years have been steady, including more than 700 refugees from African countries like Ethiopia and Somalia, as well as migrant workers (primarily from Latin America) and France/Canada. As noted by researchers with Bowdoin College, Portland historically has had the most concentrated population of immigrants, though rising housing rates have meant many new immigrants are settling in newer areas in southern Maine. Although many hospitals are striving to become more culturally and medically competent in order to care for new immigrant patients, the reality is English proficiency and literacy has a big impact on a person’s ability to access health care – from setting up appointments to using public transportation to understanding preventative care.
A study published a few years ago by the University of California, Berkley School of Public Health and the National Health Law Program, reported at least 2.5 percent of medical malpractice claims involved a language barrier that was partially or substantially related to failure to provide appropriate language services. The cases identified involved patients who either died or suffered irreparable harm. Of those who died, two were children and three were adults.
In 32 of the 35 total cases wherein a language barrier was causal in a medical malpractice case, it was alleged the health care providers did not use competent interpreters. Several used family or friends as interpreters, including minor children. In one instance, it was the decedent child who served as an interpreter before suffering respiratory arrest. In another case, it was the 16-year-old sibling of the child who died who served as an interpreter. At least a dozen of the medical malpractice claims involved alleged failure to help translate important documents. Another child suffered major organ damage, an adult underwent an unnecessary leg amputation and another was rendered permanently comatose.