Settlement cases show how disabled patients can be affected
In the recent settlements regarding discrimination against people with hearing disabilities, the Department of Justice (DOJ) found that at each of the eight facilities, a person who is deaf sought to access healthcare services and was denied a needed sign language interpreter.
By not providing a sign language interpreter or otherwise communicating effectively with the individuals who are deaf, the facilities and doctors were compromising the overall health of their patients, the DOJ concluded. The DOJ provides this summary of the allegations in a few of the settled cases:
• In the Monadnock Community Hospital settlement, the complainant went to the emergency department (ED) at the hospital for treatment for an allergic reaction that caused her to have difficulty breathing. Upon entering the hospital, she requested a sign language interpreter by presenting an Emergency Interpreter Referral Card. Despite this request, hospital staff attempted to use the complainant's 11-year-old daughter as an interpreter. The complainant repeatedly asked for an interpreter during her time in the ED, where she was administered medical procedures. She eventually was discharged, and although she was provided with discharge paperwork, she alleged she had no understanding of what was done to her and had no understanding of the discharge document.
• In the Center for Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine settlement, the patient, who is deaf, repeatedly requested an interpreter for multiple medical and physical therapy appointments related to a back injury. The orthopedic practice told the patient it was her responsibility to provide an interpreter and did not provide her with an interpreter at any of her appointments.
• Similarly, in the Northern Ohio Medical Specialists matter, the complainant, who is deaf and communicates using American Sign Language (ASL), sought medical care and requested an interpreter, but Northern Ohio Medical Specialists refused to provide an interpreter for her at her appointment and cited company policy.
• In the NorthShore University HealthSystem matter, R.A., who is deaf, was the primary caretaker of his 80-year-old mother S.A. On three occasions, for an ED visit and two hospitalizations, R.A. and S.A. requested a sign language interpreter so R.A. could communicate with the hospital's medical personnel about his mother's condition. R.A. was told that the hospital does not provide interpreters to family members of patients who are not hearing impaired.
Under each settlement agreement, the healthcare provider agreed to change their policies to provide effective communication, including sign language interpreters, free of charge, and to train all staff on their new policies and procedures and the effective communication requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Under the terms of the agreements with Monadnock Community Hospital, the Center for Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine, the NorthShore University Health Specialists, Senica Bruneau, and Noren, monetary damages were paid to the complainants.
In the NorthShore University HealthSystem and the Northern Ohio Medical Specialists settlements, the healthcare providers agreed to pay a civil penalty to the United States. Under the ADA, a civil penalty of up to $55,000 may be assessed against a healthcare provider or other entity that violates the ADA.