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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Friday, March 30, 2012
Justice Department Reaches Americans with Disabilities Act Settlement with Trinity Health Systems in Iowa

WASHINGTON - The Justice Department announced today a settlement under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) with Trinity Health Systems to ensure that Trinity Regional Medical Center in Fort Dodge, Iowa, provides effective communication to individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing.  The settlement resolves a lawsuit that alleged that Trinity failed to provide deaf individuals with sign language interpreters that were needed to communicate effectively with health care providers.  The lawsuit also alleged that Trinity relied on a seven-year-old girl to serve as a sign language interpreter for her deaf mother.  As a result of the failure to provide effective communication, deaf patients could not understand medical instructions, were confused about medical procedures and were forced to wait long periods of time without being able to communicate with medical staff, according to the complaint.

The Justice Department’s lawsuit, which was filed today along with the settlement in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Iowa, alleged that Trinity Health Systems violated the ADA by failing to provide appropriate auxiliary aids and services, including sign language interpreter services, to deaf individuals at Trinity Regional Medical Center.  The parties will ask the court to retain jurisdiction over the case to enforce the terms of the settlement. 

“The Justice Department is committed to protecting the rights of those who are deaf or hard of hearing and to ensure that they are provided an equal opportunity to benefit from goods and services,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division.  “Effective communication with individuals who are deaf is especially critical in a hospital setting where confusion and uncertainty can lead to serious consequences.”

“This settlement is a demonstration that Trinity and the Department of Justice are working towards the same goal – to make sure that deaf and hard of hearing individuals can communicate effectively throughout their medical care,” said Stephanie M. Rose, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Iowa.

The settlement requires Trinity to pay $198,000 to aggrieved individuals and a $20,000 civil penalty; provide training to hospital staff on the requirements of the ADA; and adopt specific policies and procedures to ensure that auxiliary aids and services are promptly provided to patients or companions who are deaf or hard of hearing. 

The ADA prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities by hospitals.  Among other things, the ADA requires doctors, hospitals and other health care providers to provide equal access for patients and companions who are deaf or hard of hearing.  When medical services involve important, lengthy or complex oral communications with patients or companions, hospitals are generally required to provide qualified sign language interpreters and other auxiliary aids, free of charge, to individuals who are deaf, are hard of hearing or have speech disabilities.  The appropriate auxiliary aid to be provided depends on a variety of factors including the nature, length and importance of the communication; the communication skills and knowledge of the individual who is deaf or hard of hearing; and the individual’s stated need for a particular type of auxiliary aid.

Those interested in finding out more about this settlement or hospitals’ effective communication obligations under the ADA may call the Justice Department’s toll-free ADA information line at 800-514-0301 or 800-514-0383 (TDD), or access its ADA website at www.ada.gov.  ADA complaints may be filed by email to ada.complaint@usdoj.gov.

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