Spanish option on phone system restored by board

Published 10:11 am Wednesday, March 5, 2008

By Staff
Move is counter to county policy
Senior Reporter
The Beaufort County Health Department could lose federal funding if it removes the Spanish-language option available on its automated answering system.
Despite a decision last month by the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners to remove the Spanish-language option from county departments’ automated answering systems, the Beaufort County Board of Health returned that option to the health department’s phone system only days after the commissioners said it must come off.
Hoke represents the office that offers advice and interprets the law for all health departments and all health boards across the state.
Federal law mandates that any public agency that benefits from federal funds has to follow the Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, he said.
In his Feb. 28 letter to Beaufort County Manager Paul Spruill, Terry Hodges, a compliance attorney with the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, wrote that removal of the Spanish-language option from the health department’s phone system is a violation of Title VI.
He also wrote that OCR officials “recommended that I contact the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate other Beaufort County agencies which do not receive federal assistance from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. Not only will OCR hold you out of compliance with Title VI, but NCDHHS out of compliance if we permit you to continue with such actions. I do not intend for that to happen. I do not hesitate to say that this is not a minor issue and will lead to consequences that your Board of County Commissioners may or may not have considered.”
Beaufort County Health Director Roxanne Holloman said Hodges was invited to attend Monday’s meeting, but he could not attend because of a prior engagement.
Alternatives for the commissioners are either letting their vote stand and continuing to ask questions without risking the county’s receipt of federal funds or choosing to act in a way that the Department of Health and Human Services says will result in no violations of the Civil Rights Act, Spruill said.
As of Tuesday morning, according to Spruill, he was not aware of any commissioners wanting the county to adopt a position that would jeopardize its access to federal funds.
LEP stands for limited English proficient. The term is usually used to describe an individual, client or potential recipient of an agency’s services.
The Spanish-language issue will probably be determined in counties statewide in a fairly short, finite time, Spruill said.
He said it is the fair way to handle the issue.
During the meeting, Jill Moore, associate professor of public law and government at the School of Government at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, gave a generalized overview of immigration policy as it relates to services provided by Beaufort County.
Determination of individuals’ immigration status by county departments looks like a broad issue and one that will be played out statewide and locally over some time, Spruill said.