Non-English speakers served by health department counted

Published 12:03 pm Thursday, November 15, 2007

By Staff
Commissioners to seek lawyer to find legal wayto verify U.S. citizenship
Staff Writer
Beaufort County plans on hiring an attorney to determine if there is a legal way to verify U.S. citizenship before the county’s health department renders services to people seeking those services.
On Tuesday, after hearing a report on how many non-English speakers are served by the Beaufort County Health Department, the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners decided to look for such an attorney.
Commissioners Hood Richardson and Stan Deatherage previously requested that County Manager Paul Spruill have the health department tabulate the number of its visitors or clients who required the help of an interpreter to communicate their needs.
Of 873 clinic visits, 118, or 13.5 percent, required the help of an interpreter, according to a health department count. Of 563 visits by women, infants and children to the health department, 109, or 17.6 percent, needed the help of a interpreter. Spruill said the health department will report monthly on the number of non-English speakers it serves.
Richardson is convinced those numbers don’t tell the whole story.
Deatherage asserted the board needs to find a legal way to verify the citizenship status of every person who visits the health department.
Deatherage did not offer a source for his amount.
Commissioners previously asked Spruill to ask legal professionals whether the board could legally make access to health-department services contingent upon verification of citizenship. Spruill said lawyers with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s School of Government cautioned him against commissioners taking such action. Spruill cited a recent case in Hazleton, Pa., in which landlords and employers tried to verify citizenship as a condition of renting property or employment.
Despite the advice of what Spruill called “free lawyers,” he said that a lawyer on the county payroll and who knows what commissioners are looking to accomplish by verifying citizenship “may help you find a way to make it work.”
A motion to send out a request for proposals from lawyers to take on that task was approved 4-3, with board Chairman Jay McRoy and commissioners Al Klemm, Richardson and Deatherage supporting the measure. Commissioners Jerry Langley, Robert Cayton and Ed Booth opposed it.
Spruill also said conflict arises with the federal government when commissioners attempt to regulate services like the health department and school system — partially funded by federal dollars — on the basis of citizenship. Federal subsidies to Beaufort County public schools forbid the county government from interfering with access to education based on federally conferred citizenship.