Section 23A. (a) For purposes of this section the following words shall have the following meanings:
“Non-English speaker”, a person who cannot speak or understand, or has difficulty with speaking or understanding, the English language because the speaker primarily or only uses a spoken language other than English.
“Competent interpreter services”, interpreter services performed by a person who is fluent in English and in the language of a non-English speaker, who is trained and proficient in the skill and ethics of interpreting and who is knowledgeable about the specialized terms and concepts that need to be interpreted for purposes of receiving emergency care or treatment.
(b) Every hospital or separate unit of a hospital which provides acute psychiatric services, as defined in section 25B of chapter 111, shall in connection with the delivery of such services, and if an appropriate bilingual clinician is not available, provide competent interpreter services to every non-English speaker who is a patient. Based on the volume and diversity of the non-English-speaking patients or persons seeking appropriate emergency care or treatment, each such hospital shall use reasonable judgment as to whether to employ, or to contract for the on-call use of one or more interpreters for particular languages when needed, or to use competent telephonic or televiewing interpreter services. However, such hospital shall only use competent telephonic or televiewing interpreter services in situations where there is either (1) no reasonable way to anticipate the need for employed or contracted interpreters for a particular language; or (2) there occurs, in a particular instance, an inability to provide competent interpreter services by an employed or contracted interpreter.
(c) The receipt by any non-English speaker of interpreter services shall not be deemed the receipt of a “public benefit” under any provision of law restricting benefits or assistance on the basis of immigrant status.
(d) Substantial compliance with the provisions of this section shall be a requirement of licensing or relicensing by the department under section 19 of chapter 19, and the department may promulgate regulations pursuant to section 18 of said chapter 19 for the implementation of this section.
(e) Any non-English speaker, who is denied appropriate acute psychiatric services by a hospital or separate unit of a hospital which provides acute psychiatric services by reason of the hospital’s not having exercised reasonable judgment in making competent interpreter services available, as required by this section, or the attorney general upon receiving written notice from a regulating state agency that such hospital is substantially failing to comply with applicable interpreter requirements, shall have a right of action in the superior court against such hospital for declaratory or injunctive relief. A non-English speaker bringing such action shall not be required to exhaust any administrative remedies that may be available to him and may be awarded damages for any actual harm suffered, but at least $250 in damages shall be awarded for each violation, together with such costs, including expert fees and attorney’s fees, as may be reasonably incurred in such action. Such action shall be brought within three years of any such failure to provide competent interpreter services.