FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 21, 2011
Contact: HHS Press Office
RIDHS signs voluntary resolution agreement with HHS’ Office of Civil Rights
Rhode Island’s Department of Human Services to enhance
how it provides for effective communication
The Rhode Island Department of Human Services (RIDHS) and HHS’ Office for Civil Rights (OCR) signed a resolution agreement, in which RIDHS agreed to make changes in its policies and procedures to ensure its compliance with Civil Rights laws and existing agreements with OCR to improve language access services for clients with limited English proficiency (LEP).
Under the new resolution agreement, people with LEP — those who have a limited ability to read, write, speak, or understand English — will have improved access to RIDHS programs and services, including access to Medicaid and other social service programs. Furthermore, RIDHS will make meaningful efforts to create a robust training program for current and new employees that will educate staff on a provider’s duties under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
All RIDHS programs, and all programs operated by other agencies that receive Federal financial assistance from HHS, are prohibited by Title VI and its implementing regulation from administering their programs in ways that have the effect of delaying or denying services to persons on the basis of their race, color, or national origin.
“While OCR recognizes States as well as other covered entities are experiencing ongoing and significant fiscal tension, it remains of nonnegotiable importance for providers to uphold compliance with Title VI and the other laws protecting the civil rights of individuals seeking health care,” says OCR Director Georgina Verdugo.
The resolution agreement resolves a complaint filed with OCR by the Rhode Island Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (RI ACLU). In the complaint, RI ACLU alleged that RIDHS’ termination of four Southeast Asian staff interpreters denied meaningful access to programs for eligible LEP clients. While the investigation for the complaint concluded that RIDHS was not in violation of Title VI, OCR’s simultaneous review of RIDHS’ compliance with existing agreements exposed gaps in RIDHS’ compliance activities. Mainly, RIDHS had not adequately implemented improved access to its programs and services for people with LEP.
RIDHS was accommodating throughout OCR’s investigation and review, and voluntarily committed to ensuring that the language access needs of its LEP clients are properly assessed and that appropriate language services are provided to clients in all RIDHS programs. RIDHS also agreed to improve its policies and procedures for assessing language and translation needs; improve its methods for overseeing the provision of language access services, including complaints; ensure a more comprehensive approach to providing timely language assistance services; conduct outreach to notify LEP clients of the availability of free language assistance; ensure that use of family or friends as interpreters is allowed only where specifically requested by the client and after being informed that RIDHS will provide free language assistance services at no cost; to translate vital program documents; and to establish mandatory staff training on their obligations under Title VI.
Following the news of the resolution agreement, Director Verdugo re-emphasized the importance of building a culture of compliance into the policies and procedures of State agencies saying, “Employee turnover is inevitable within any organization. It is vital that policies and procedures are regularly evaluated and updated and that training programs are in place to make certain all staff, new and existing, are knowledgeable on what it means to be compliant with Title VI and all other civil rights laws when delivering health care and human services.”
RIDHS is the prime source of publicly-funded medical and social services provided to over 180,000 Rhode Island citizens through programs and services such as the Rhode Island Works Program, the Medical Assistance Program, the General Public Assistance Program, the Starting Right Child Care Assistance Program, and the Social Services Program.
OCR and RIDHS executed this agreement to resolve all matters related to the complaint filed by the ACLU and to address any compliance concerns related to the open resolution agreement with OCR.
Individuals who believe that they have been discriminated against because of their race, color, national origin, disability, age, sex or religion by a health care or human services provider (such as a hospital or social service agency) or by a state or local health or human services agency, may file a complaint with OCR at: http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/civilrights/complaints/index.html.
A copy of the agreement between HHS and RIDHS can be found at www.hhs.gov/ocr/civilrights/activities/agreements/. Also, additional information about OCR’s enforcement activities can be found at www.hhs.gov/ocr.
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Last revised: May 7, 2011