Navajo family sues hospital after man dies due to lack of interpretation

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico and the Fine Law Firm filed a motion asking a court to hold San Juan Regional Medical Center liable for failing to provide Larry Williams, a beloved family member and Navajo elder, with a certified Navajo interpreter, which led to his misdiagnosis and ultimate death.

Larry died in 2018. His daughters, Lariet Williams and Lynlaria Dickson, spoke with KOB 4 as they continue to seek justice for their father.

They said he wasn’t acting like himself and said he was in pain so they brought him to the emergency room.

“When we went to the ICU, we thought he would get the best care possible and that he would come back with us, but that wasn’t the case,” Lynlaria said.

Instead, Larry – who only spoke Navajo – was discharged and given a prescription for antibiotics.

Normally, Larry’s wife would act as an interpreter for him, but she had to go to a dialysis appointment. According to the lawsuit, the hospital didn’t offer an interpreter.

“Language assistance is vital to the overall health of Indigenous people and because San Juan Medical Center serves a large Navajo population, it’s inconceivable that San Juan Medical Center failed to provide the language services that Mr. Williams depended on,” said ACLU attorney Preston Sanchez.

According to the New Mexico Department of Health, hospitals should provide an interpreter for patients according to the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964. The act states the facility must provide services in a language that the patient understands.

Sanchez said he expects a response from the court by the end of March. Until then, Larry’s daughters will continue to push for equal access their father didn’t get.

KOB 4 reached out to the San Juan Medical Center for comment, but we have not received a response.