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PR- 395-09
September 3, 2009


Remarks by Mayor Bloomberg at a Public Hearing on Local Laws

“The next bill before me today is Introductory Number 859-A, sponsored by Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum and Council Members Brewer, James, Liu, Palma, Sanders, Gerson, White, Gioia, Arroyo, Mendez, Gonzalez, Eugene, Rivera, Ferreras, Jackson, Baez, Mark-Viverito, Weprin, Reyna, Sears, Barron, Koppell, de Blasio, Dickens, Stewart, Vann and Nelson, provides for language assistance services in pharmacies.

“According to the United States Census Bureau, over 35 percent of New Yorkers are foreign born.  The City’s 2.9 million immigrants are extraordinarily diverse and speak over 100 different languages and 23.7 percent have limited English proficiency.  Limited English proficiency can have significant consequences in relation to the dispensing of medication where a consumer’s inability to understand medication labels and instructions can cause errors in usage and endanger his or her health. The information associated with receiving a new prescription may be complex and pharmacists play a critical role in helping consumers prevent medication errors and identifying drug interactions.

“Introductory Number 859-A requires chain pharmacies to provide free, competent oral interpretation and written translation of vital documents to limited English proficient (LEP) individuals.  Oral interpretation for the purposes of counseling shall be offered to all LEP individuals in their primary language.  Written translation of labels and information sheets is required for customers who speak one of the top seven foreign languages in New York City.  These languages – currently Spanish, Chinese/Cantonese/Mandarin, Russian, Korean, Italian, French Creole, and Bengali – are spoken by over 80 percent of the LEP population in the City.  Pharmacies are also required to post signs alerting consumers that language assistance services are available.

“Introductory Number 859-A is similar to settlement agreements that a number of the major chain pharmacies entered into with the New York State Attorney General in November 2008 and April 2009.  For example, the bill requires that covered pharmacies translate “prescription medication labels, warning labels and other written material” and defines “other written material” with language taken straight from the Attorney General settlement agreements.

“This legislation does not impose any greater obligation for written translation than the Attorney General settlement agreements and this Administration looks forward to working with the covered pharmacies as they plan to come into compliance with the law.

“This Administration is committed to ensuring that all New Yorkers, regardless of their proficiency in English, have meaningful access to services and is always seeking innovative ways to provide excellent and accountable customer service.  In 2008, I signed Executive Order 120, which required all City agencies to provide language assistance services and develop appropriate policies and outreach programs to inform and educate foreign language speakers of available City services.  I am glad that today we will expand language assistance services to pharmacies so as to better serve some of the more vulnerable consumers and to ensure fairness and safety in the sale of prescription medications.

“I would like to thank Health Commissioner Thomas Farley, Consumer Affairs Commissioner Jonathan Mintz and Immigrant Affairs Commissioner Fatima Shama and their staff for their work on this bill.  I would also like to thank the Public Advocate for introducing, and the Council for approving this legislation.”


Stu Loeser/Evelyn Erskine   (212) 788-2958

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