D.C. Pharmacies A Quagmire For Non-English Speakers | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

WAMU 88.5 : News

Filed Under:

D.C. Pharmacies A Quagmire For Non-English Speakers

Play associated audio
Reading prescription bottles is trouble enough for those who don't speak English. Purchasing them can be even harder.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/73820219@N05/6675212153/
Reading prescription bottles is trouble enough for those who don't speak English. Purchasing them can be even harder.

For those who don't speak English, getting help at a D.C. pharmacy might be very difficult. That's the upshot of a report called Prescription for Inequity. The report claims even when language assistance was offered at local pharmacies, it was usually inadequate.

Tester Frank Tchokeu says when he pretended to speak only French while seeking help in D.C. pharmacies, the outcome was painful.

"Sometimes they would say, 'You don't have someone who speaks English with you?' And when I said no they said, Sorry,'" Tchokeu says.

Language barriers prove significant

The outcome was equally dismal for half of the testers who visited 89 local pharmacies and pretended to speak only Amharic, Chinese, Korean, Serbian or Spanish.

Sapna Pundya is with Many Languages, One Voice, the group behind the report. She says 70 additional pharmacies were called and again about half of the time ran into resistance.

"Either over the phone or in person they were literally laughed at or ignored or told to just speak English," Pundya says.

Even when pharmacy workers were sympathetic, the foreign language assistance provided was inadequate. Hiep Le, a Senior citizen speaking through an interpreter, says medicine bottles can be bewildering and sometimes drugs have to be identified by the pills shape or color.

"Most of the medications never put anything in Vietnamese and therefore it is very difficult for us to read the warning on the label," Hiep says.

Bridging language gap, minimizing cost

Pundya offers a solution that doesn't involve forcing pharmacies to staff up.

"What we are suggesting is that there are a few different companies that provide over the phone interpretation services and the DC government already contracts with one such company," Pundya says.

She says a similar law passed in New York averages a cost of $2 a day per location per customer.

Leila Higgins is an activist with the American University College of Law and says the same federal mandate that obliges the District government to provide language services applies to some pharmacies.

"Pharmacies that accept Medicare and Medicaid, which are federally-funded programs, they have sort of engaged in a contract with the federal government to abide by the Civil Rights Act," Higgins says.

Councilmember Jim Graham represents Ward 1, the most ethnically-diverse in the District. He's drafting legislation that would provide interpetration services at all D.C. pharmacies and require labeling in appropriate languages and in an easily readable font size as well as training for pharmacy staff.

The bill will be introduced on April 30.

WAMU is licensed to American University

NPR

Maggie Gyllenhaal Is 'The Honorable Woman': A Series Both Ruthless And Rewarding

The eight-part drama that begins Thursday stars Maggie Gyllenhaal as a British baroness with an Israeli passport. She's a fearless actor in a show full of kidnappings, seductions and betrayals.
NPR

When China Spurns GMO Corn Imports, American Farmers Lose Billions

China has been a big and growing market for U.S. corn. But then farmers started planting a kind of genetically engineered corn that's not yet approved in China, and the Chinese government struck back.
NPR

Congress Approves $16.3 Billion VA Health Care Bill

A 91-3 vote in the Senate will send the landmark VA legislation, meant to address widespread problems in the VA health care system, to President Obama for his signature.
NPR

Can Pinterest Compete With Google's Search?

Pinterest has created a database of things that matter to humans. And with a programming team that's largely been hired away from Google, the company has begun offering what it calls "guided search."

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.