December 19, 2019
HHS OCR Secures Voluntary Resolution with Pennsylvania Department of Human Services to Strengthen Language Access for Limited English Proficiency Individuals
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Office for Civil Rights (OCR), has entered into a Voluntary Resolution Agreement (VRA) with the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (PaDHS).
The VRA resolves a compliance review and two complaint investigations, respectively, involving access to certain PaDHS health and welfare programs by individuals with limited English proficiency (LEP). Through this agreement, PaDHS affirms its commitment to compliance with its obligations under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, including the obligation to provide LEP individuals meaningful access to its programs, including specific actions to improve LEP access to PaDHS's Office of Income Maintenance (OIM).
OCR initiated the compliance review after an advocacy group informed OCR of alleged deficiencies in OIM's provision of language services, particularly in the Philadelphia County area. OCR subsequently received complaints from two individuals alleging that they were not provided adequate or timely Spanish translation services, despite multiple requests, and in one case leading to a complainant having his Medicaid benefits terminated without his knowledge. These allegations led OCR to conduct a broad review of PaDHS programs administered through OIM regarding its obligations under Title VI to provide meaningful access to LEP individuals. As a result of that review, OCR and PaDHS reached this agreement to reflect the ongoing commitment PaDHS OIM has to provide such access and to take additional steps to improve access.
Under the specific terms of the agreement which does not constitute an admission or finding of liability, PaDHS recognizes that LEP individuals will continue to be provided language assistance services where necessary to ensure meaningful access to and effective participation in OIM programs and will take additional actions to enhance its existing language assistance services, including:
- Conducting and completing an assessment of the linguistic needs of the affected population served by OIM;
- Strengthening the process for the identification and translation of vital documents provided by OIM;
- Ensuring OIM's existing written language access plan is fully implemented by county assistance and district offices.
- Reviewing, updating, and revising its language access plan, and written policies and procedures on providing assistance to individuals with LEP;
- Developing and implementing comprehensive mandatory training for all OIM staff on LEP access;
- Ensuring that OIM's designated Title VI coordinator reviews and responds to questions or complaints regarding language access services for individuals with LEP and provides guidance to OIM Language Facilitators, among other things;
- Reviewing and updating or revising standard procedures for receiving and responding to complaints and concerns from individuals with LEP.
"We commend the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services for committing to making their programs more accessible to individuals with limited English proficiency," said Roger Severino, Director of OCR. "As a son of Colombian immigrants, I know first-hand the importance of having meaningful language access to vital health or social service programs in accordance with the law," Severino concluded.
For more information on providing language assistance services to individuals with LEP, as required by Title VI, visit us at www.hhs.gov/civil-rights/for-individuals/special-topics/limited-english-proficiency/index.html.
A copy of the voluntary resolution agreement is located at www.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/hhs-padhs-vra.pdf.
To learn more about non-discrimination and health information privacy laws, and to find information on filing a complaint, visit us at www.hhs.gov/ocr.
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