The City of Tacoma’s Human Rights Commission recently formed a task force to study disparate language access to free or reduced-cost care at area hospitals. The Human Rights Commission was created by the Tacoma City Council over 50 years ago to study and combat prejudice and discrimination in the community.

“Denying financial assistance for hospital services because a patient needs an interpreter does not align with Tacoma’s law or its values as a welcoming city,” said Brad Bates, who serves on the Tacoma Human Rights Commission.

The task force found that Tacoma hospital systems are, in fact, implementing changes to improve charity-care access for all eligible patients, but the barriers faced by Limited English Proficient (LEP) individuals are complex. Eliminating these barriers requires a sustained effort as well as structural change.

“The Human Rights Commission was alarmed by the study released a year ago from Columbia Legal Services that found hospitals here and elsewhere in the state had failed to offer Spanish speakers access to charity-care far more often than English speakers,” Bates said.

To task force will begin providing charity-care training to patient navigators this month.

“The navigator trainings will help eliminate language barriers to charity-care for Tacoma residents and support area hospitals’ compliance with state law,” said Bates.

Through strengthening inter-group relationships, the Commission works to eliminate discrimination, and foster greater understanding and justice for all individuals in Tacoma.

Any individual who believes that she, he or they have been unlawfully denied access to charity-care services based on national origin, including language, should contact the city by calling (253) 591-5000, going online to cityoftacoma.org/TacomaFIRST or in person Monday-Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Tacoma Municipal Building, 747 Market Street, Second Floor. Complaints must be filed within six months of the denial.