County soon to collect stats on noncitizens Will look at how many need

Published 3:55 am Monday, October 1, 2007

By Staff
interpreters during health help
By NIKIE MAYO;News Editor
Commissioners will study the percentage of people who need interpreters when they go to the Beaufort County Health Department, with leaders hoping the project will give them a measure of how many folks without U.S. citizenship are getting help there.
“We’re still working at a staff level in setting up a system by which we’ll begin to measure the percentage of people needing interpreters as compared to a percentage of the total workload,” County Manager Paul Spruill said Sunday.
Spruill told county commissioners during a Sept. 12 meeting that he thought this method would allow them to “stay away from the legal-status issue and still proceed on the data-collection task.” Commissioners voted 4-2 in mid-April to collect this kind of data “to the legal extent possible.”
There has been discussion about whether the county can collect data on the number of people who choose the Spanish language option on the health department’s automated telephone system. When a call is placed to the health department, the first greeting is in English and if a patient holds the line, the next greeting is in Spanish.
But Spruill said Sunday the county is still checking into whether the county can legally study “who benefits from that second-language option” on the phone system.
Health Director Roxanne Holloman said in March that about 25 percent of the health department’s patients are Hispanic, based on figures from fiscal year 2005- 2006. Holloman said she could not know how many of those patients were illegal immigrants because the law won’t allow public-health officials to ask someone if he or she is an illegal immigrant.
When county leaders voted in April to collect the information they could, Commissioner Hood Richardson made the motion. Commissioners Stan Deatherage, Klemm and commissioners’ Chairman Jay McRoy voted in favor of it. Commissioners Jerry Langley and Robert Cayton opposed it. Commissioner Ed Booth was absent then.
Langley said then that the county should “find out what the federal government’s take is” on a county that collects statistics from an automated telephone system.
Cayton has said that collecting any statistics aimed at determining citizenship is a dangerous move.