AVH language policy concerns Latino workers | AspenTimes.com

AVH language policy concerns Latino workers

Eben Harrell

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 safety 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 implementation. “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@aspentimes.com

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