Hospital settles alleged ADA violation
NASHUA – Southern New Hampshire Medical Center has agreed to pay hearing-impaired patient Kenton Hermans $5,000 and to implement a program ensuring effective communication for deaf and hard-of-hearing patients as part of a settlement agreement.
U.S. Attorney John Kacavas announced the medical center entered the settlement Thursday to resolve an allegation that the hospital, located in downtown Nashua, violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by failing to provide appropriate auxiliary aids and services, such as an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter, necessary to communicate effectively with a deaf or hard-of-hearing patient.
Hermans, who communicates primarily through sign language, alleged he was seeking medical treatment from Southern New Hampshire Medical Center in May 2008 when the hospital discriminated against him and his companion by failing to provide auxiliary aids and services necessary to communicate effectively – namely, an ASL interpreter.
“The ADA has a lot of different requirements, one of them is that individuals who are deaf or hard-of-hearing have an opportunity to communicate effectively when they’re at a place of public accommodation,” Kacavas said. “That includes hospitals but also includes various businesses. There’s a whole host of different entities that do business with the public. In terms of providing effective communication, that can mean different things in different settings.”
In terms of hospitals, the ADA requires auxiliary aids and services where necessary to guarantee effective communication for individuals with disabilities, thus applying to all hospital programs and services, including emergency room care, inpatient and outpatient services, surgery, clinics, educational classes, and cafeteria and gift shop services.
When complex communication is required, such as conversations involving medical issues, the ADA often requires hospitals to provide sign language interpreters for patients or family members who are deaf or hearing-impaired.
According to Hermans, the Southern New Hampshire Medical Center did not accommodate his requests for a sign language interpreter and tried to persuade his companion – an unqualified and unwilling substitute – to interpret for him. Consequently, Hermans alleged he was unable to understand what was taking place during his visit.
“When you’re in a situation like a hospital, where you’re trying to get a history and physical of someone, to find out why they’re trying to be treated, that’s the type of complex communication where often times you’re only going to be able to achieve that through a sign language interpreter,” Kacavas said.
Faced with the allegations, Southern New Hampshire Medical Center, which admitted no liability, agreed to the settlement, Kacavas said.
“They were cooperative,” Kacavas said. “They recognized the importance of communicating with people who are deaf and hard-of-hearing. They are proceeding in good faith to improve their services with the deaf.”
Some of those improvements include the appointment of Program Administrators to answer questions and provide appropriate assistance regarding immediate access to and proper use of appropriate auxiliary aids and services required by the settlement agreement.
“We have interpreters, including sign language interpreters. We have a deaf talk line, but we are working to enhance both the technology and the tools that we have in order to provide timely and effect communication and, also, to provide training for our staff to heighten their awareness of the special needs of this population,” Dr. Stephanie Wolf-Rosenblum, SNHMC’s chief medical officer, said.
“No one should ever come into or leave Southern New Hampshire Medical Center feeling like they weren’t able to fully communicate with members of the medical center team,” Wolf-Rosenblum said.
“We are absolutely committed to the quality of care we give to patients and effective communication is a critical component of that care. We welcome this opportunity to raise the bar in communicating with all patients, but especially patients who are deaf and hard-of-hearing.”
Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division said enforcement of ADA rules helps preserve civil rights.
“On July 26, 2010, we will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the ADA, a landmark civil rights law that ensures equal access opportunities for individuals with disabilities. Ensuring full and equal access to hospitals and other businesses open to the public is a top priority and the Justice Department is committed to vigorous enforcement of the ADA ...” Perez said, commenting on the settlement.
Efforts to contact Hermans were unsuccessful.
Maryalice Gill can be reached at 594-6490 or firstname.lastname@example.org.