Aspen Valley Hospital language policy concerns Latino workers

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Tue May 3 14:26:30 UTC 2005

>>From the Aspen Times

AVH language policy concerns Latino workers

By Eben Harrell
May 3, 2005

Aspen Valley Hospital issued an internal directive in April mandating its
employees be proficient in English. News of the policy spread through the
hospital work force last week, causing anger, frustration and, according
to hospital officials, misunderstanding over what the hospital was trying
to accomplish.

The new policy, provided to The Aspen Times by AVH, states "all employees
must be able to read, write and communicate in English to ensure that
Aspen Valley Hospital saf ety and security procedures can be followed."
The policy states certain emergency situations at the hospital require
employees to speak English. Also, the policy states that new-hire
orientation, in which crucial hospital safety procedures are outlined to
new employees, is given in English.

But one AVH employee, a Latino dishwasher, said he has no contact with
patients and that it is "discriminatory" to require him to speak English
with his co-workers. He said the policy unfairly targets the hospital's
Latino work force. Juan A. Rios produced an employee evaluation dated
April 27 that had an underlined section that reads: "Speak English on the
job, even when talking with Latino co-workers."

"If I could speak perfect English I wouldn't have this position," Rios
said through an interpreter. "I'm not dealing with patients. I'm in the
kitchen. My whole department speaks Spanish. I'm worried tension will grow
because of this policy." Another Latino employee, who wished to remain
anonymous fearing reprisal, said the problem is not the policy, but its

"I think some people took this policy and used it to enforce what they
have wanted all along - to not have any Spanish. These people who don't
like Spanish-speaking people are prohibiting all Spanish. And that's
wrong," he said. Hospital CEO Dave Ressler worked to ease concerns
yesterday, stating the hospital only requires its employees to be able to
speak English; it doesn't require them to do so when away from patients
and conversing with colleagues.

"The policy does not prohibit speaking Spanish. We're going back to our
managers and employees to make sure they know what this policy really
means," Ressler said when asked about Rios' complaints. Asked what will
happen to current employees, such as Rios, who don't speak English
fluently, Ressler said, "We'll work with them, no one is going to get
canned over this."

In defending the policy, Ressler cited patient safety. He acknowledged it
was "a hot-button issue" and that the hospital could have handled the
announcement of the policy in a more sensitive way. "What happens if
there's a fire in the hospital? We need to be able to communicate with all
our employees," Ressler said. "There's nothing wrong with this policy. But
we obviously did not handle the dissemination of the policy well. In that
regard, we blew it."

Eben Harrell's e-mail address is eharrell at

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