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Boro pols want remedy for Rx language

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Six months after an immigrant advocacy group complained to the state attorney general, elected officials are calling for better language services at local pharmacies.

State Sen. John Sabini (D-Jackson Heights) said immigrant communities often suffer from higher rates of illness. "The language barrier is a big part of that," he told a news conference in front of a Woodside Rite Aid.

Sabini, City Councilman Eric Gioia (D-Sunnyside) and members of the advocacy group Make the Road New York and Lawyers for the Public Interest gathered in front of the pharmacy because they said larger chain stores provide language translation services less often than small businesses.

Make the Road New York filed a complaint with the state attorney general's office in November, naming 16 pharmacies in the city that did not provide translation and interpretation services to non-English-speaking customers.

At the time, a Rite Aid spokeswoman said the pharmacy provides translation in Spanish, Hindi, Chinese, Arabic, Japanese, Vietnamese, Korean, Portuguese, French, Russian and Polish.

"Mom-and-pop pharmacies typically have a better handle on their populations," Sabini said, but noted that small neighborhood stores selling over-the-counter medication were among the group of shops that did not immediately remove certain children's cold medicines from their shelves after a nationwide recall last fall.

"Immigrant communities get it on both ends," he said.

State law requires pharmacies to individually counsel patients when they get a new prescription and again at patients' request when they renew a prescription.

Federal law requires federal financial assistance services to be accessible to everyone. In this case, this means removing barriers excluding people who do not speak English.

"Pharmacies are required to provide labels understandable to an ordinary patient," Sabini spokesman Steven Stites wrote in an e-mail. "If labels aren't translated, that information isn't being communicated. We believe 'ordinary patient' should mean all patients, whether they speak English or not."

"There are laws to govern pharmacies and counseling patients," said Theo Oshiro, director of health advocacy for Make the Road New York. "But none specifying translation services. Getting that, specifically, as a law would help."

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at jwalsh@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

Updated 6:58 pm, October 10, 2011
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