WASHINGTON — The Department of Justice today announced a comprehensive consent decree under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) with Laurel Regional Hospital, a community hospital serving the Maryland suburbs of Washington. The hospital has agreed to ensure effective communication with patients or companions who are deaf or hard of hearing.
“Patients and their families need to be able to communicate with medical providers for proper diagnosis and treatment,” said Wan J. Kim, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “I commend the Laurel Regional Hospital for working with us, and I hope that this agreement will be a model for other hospitals to make certain that individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing have the same access to medical care and treatment.”
The consent decree, filed in federal court in Greenbelt, Md., resolves allegations that on several occasions the hospital did not appropriately respond to requests to provide qualified sign language interpreters or other auxiliary aids for patients or companions. For example, the Department’s complaint alleged that the hospital refused to communicate with a deaf woman whose son, an emergency department patient, was in and out of consciousness and that a former patient who was discharged did not understand her diagnosis or treatment recommendations and, which resulted in her being rushed to another hospital shortly thereafter to receive medical treatment there.
Today’s agreement in Gillespie and United States v. Dimensions Health Corporation resolves a lawsuit by several individual plaintiffs, in which the Department of Justice intervened.
Under the decree, the hospital will assess the communication needs of individuals with speech or hearing impairments upon their arrival or at the time an appointment is scheduled; provide qualified interpreters (on-site or video interpreting) as soon as possible (and within specified time limits) when necessary for effective communication, especially in circumstances involving lengthy or complex interactions such as admissions and detailed discussions of symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment; provide auxiliary aids, when needed, to companions as well as to patients; and meet certain standards for video interpreting services, including high-quality, clear, delay-free, full motion video and audio over a dedicated high-speed Internet connection.
This is the Department’s first agreement that includes criteria for video interpreting services (videophones). Through these services, which are becoming more frequently used in various settings, an off-site interpreter appears through video conference technology over high-speed Internet lines. These services must be carefully monitored in hospital settings where, for example, patients with certain medical conditions or injuries may not be able to use their arms or be positioned appropriately to view the screen or to perform sign language.
“Effective communication is particularly critical in the health care setting,” said Rod J. Rosenstein, U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland. “We are committed to ensuring that individuals with disabilities or their families are not subjected to unequal treatment because of poor communication with medical personnel about their symptoms, diagnoses and treatment.”
Title III of the ADA applies to private entities such as hospitals and other medical care facilities and, among other things, requires that private entities such as hospitals ensure effective communication with persons with speech, hearing, and vision impairments.
People interested in finding out more about the ADA or the agreement can call the Justice Department's toll-free ADA Information Line at 1-800-514-0301 or 1-800-514-0383 (TTY), or access its ADA website at http://www.ada.gov.