HHS Reports Successes in Access to Meaningful Language Assistance Services

For the first time since 2016, Health and Human Services (HHS) released a report detailing the progress made in improving “meaningful access to language assistance services” for individuals who are considered to have limited English proficiency (LEP). The report was based off of Executive Order 13985 “Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government” and Executive Order 14012 “Restoring Faith in Our Legal Immigration Systems and Strengthening Integration and Inclusion Efforts for New Americans”. Collectively, these orders aimed to ease access to government services (that assist in overcoming barriers in federal programs) and formulate ways to encourage inclusion and integration of LEP individuals into the American democracy. Based on the 2022 HHS Equity Action Plan, successes over the past year were detailed. There was an increased ease of access to meaningful language tools in an individual’s preferred language via websites, listserv announcements, and public outreach material, something that was crucial during the Public Health Emergency.

However, HHS did receive a complaint alleging 19 states failed to provide individuals with meaningful access to their “COVID testing, inoculation, and treatment programs.” As a result, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) addressed the complaint by teaming up with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to offer webinars about the importance of language access during emergency situations.

Also included in the report was a roadmap to further equal access to meaningful language assistance services. It details a need to eliminate the barriers in accessing language in core areas, including internet and telephone access, access to programs and activities, and federal funds used to provide the needed language services.

OCR also relaunched the Department’s Language Access Steering Committee on October 11, 2022. The committee will focus on implementing goals of the Equity Plan via language access quality assessments, summarizing the report findings to the Secretary on an annual basis. There is also the creation of a HHS Language Access Coordinator position, with the goal to set up a centralized language access center hub for HHS, update and revise HHS’s 2013 Language Access Plan, and take steps to address problems identified in OCR investigations of LEP grievances filed against HHS.

This report affirms how serious federal agencies are in supporting those individuals who are considered to have limited English proficiency. Likewise, PAAS National® aims to support our members in being culturally competent in how services are provided. Inquire about PAAS’ Cultural Competency training and the PAAS Care ModelTM to ensure your pharmacy is adherent to federal requirements.

PAAS Tips:

Meredith Thiede, PharmD