ACLU Wins Right to Sue Maine Medical Center Over Interpreter Services for Patients

Affiliate: ACLU of Maine
September 28, 1999 12:00 am

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ACLU of Maine
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PORTLAND, ME — The American Civil Liberties Union of Maine and the National Health Law Project this week won the right to continue their lawsuit against the Maine Medical Center on behalf of persons with limited English proficiency who need interpreter services while they are patients at the hospital.

The hospital had sought to have the lawsuit dismissed.

“Having surgery or receiving treatment at an emergency room is an upsetting experience, even for someone who easily communicates with doctors and nurses in English,” said Kim Matthews, one of the ACLU’s volunteer attorneys on the case. “If questions and instructions cannot be understood because of a language barrier, it is terrifying.”

The ACLU, said that patients at Maine Medical Center whose primary language was not English could not understand what they were being told by their doctors and nurses. The former patients said they were not given interpreters to help them understand instructions for taking medicine or the reasons that they needed surgery and other medical procedures.

“If we are successful at trial, Maine Medical Center will be required to drastically improve its limited interpreter services,” said Peter Darvin, who also represents the former patients on behalf of the ACLU of Maine.

“The right to be free from discrimination based upon national origin is particularly important in hospitals where a person is at risk of serious injury if he and the doctor cannot understand each other,” he added.

U.S. District Court Judge Gene Carter issued the decision.

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