U.S. Attorney’s Office Enters into Consent Decree with Cheshire Medical Center,
Keene Health Alliance and Dartmouth-Hitchcock Clinic d/b/a Dartmouth-Hitchcock Keene to Resolve ADA Complaint
CONCORD, NH – Cheshire Medical Center, Keene Health Alliance, and Dartmouth-Hitchcock Clinic d/b/a Dartmouth-Hitchcock Keene (Cheshire Medical Center/Dartmouth-Hitchcock Keene or CMC/DHK) have entered into a consent decree to resolve allegations that it violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) by failing to provide appropriate auxiliary aids and services (such as sign language interpreters) that were necessary to ensure effective communication with deaf or hard-of-hearing individuals, announced United States Attorney John P. Kacavas.
Included in the consent decree is an agreement that CMC/DHK will establish a program to ensure that it will provide effective communication to deaf and hard-of-hearing patients in the future. CMC/DHK previously settled with the individual claimants, Laura and Jeanne Waldren, who were represented by Kirk Simoneau, Esq., of Nixon, Vogelman, Barry, Slawsky & Simoneau, P.A., Manchester, NH. CMC/DHK also agreed to pay $25,000.00 in civil penalties to the United States.
According to a civil complaint filed in federal court, Laura Waldren is deaf and communicates primarily via American Sign Language. On two occasions, her mother, Jeanne Waldren, accompanied Laura Waldren to CMC/DHKs. Laura Waldren was required to rely upon Jeanne Waldren to assist her in communicating about her medical concerns or to attempt to communicate via lip-reading or written notes. Jeanne Waldren felt that she had little choice but to try to serve as an interpreter for her daughter, but is not trained or qualified to serve as a sign language interpreter. Because of the communication difficulties, Laura Waldren was not able to understand what was happening during her medical care and treatment.
The complaint also alleged that CMC/DHK failed to provide appropriate auxiliary aids and services when necessary for effective communication on several occasions, despite requests made in advance of her appointments or visits. Laura Waldren underwent a variety of medical tests and procedures, but was never provided with an interpreter to assist her in understanding her medical condition or the nature of the medical procedures being performed upon her.
Without admitting any liability, CMC/DHK has entered into a consent decree to resolve the allegations in the complaint. As part of the agreement, CMC/DHK has agreed to establish a program to provide effective communication for individuals who are deaf or hard-of-hearing. This includes the appointment of at least two 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 consent decree. CMC/DHK has agreed to make efforts to determine the needs of deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals and to provide them with appropriate auxiliary aids and services (including qualified interpreters) in a timely fashion. Among other things, the hospital also has agreed to provide equipment to assist individuals who are deaf and hard-of-hearing, to provide training for the staff and affiliated physicians, and to provide reports to the U.S. Attorney’s Office regarding its compliance with the consent decree.
Under the ADA, health care providers must furnish appropriate auxiliary aids and services where necessary to ensure effective communication with individuals with disabilities. The ADA applies to all hospital and clinical programs and services, such as emergency room care, inpatient and outpatient services, surgery, clinics, educational classes, and cafeteria and gift shop services. Wherever deaf patients or their companions are interacting with medical staff, a health care provider is obligated to provide effective communication. When complex communication is involved (such as when discussing complex medical issues), the ADA often requires health care providers to provide sign language interpreters for deaf or hard-of-hearing patients or other deaf or hard-of-hearing individuals (such as the deaf parents of a minor child). Under the ADA, a family member or friend is rarely qualified to serve as an interpreter, because (even if the person has the requisite skills to serve as an interpreter) he or she is unlikely to be able to interpret accurately and impartially. More information about the ADA may be found at www.ada.gov.
This resolution is part of an ongoing series of ADA enforcement matters that the U.S. Attorney has pursued against New Hampshire hospitals that did not appear to be complying with their obligations under the ADA. Since 2008, the United States Attorney’s Office has entered into settlement agreements to resolve effective communication complaints at several other hospitals, including Concord Hospital, Southern New Hampshire Medical Center, St. Joseph Hospital, Frisbie Memorial Hospital and Portsmouth Regional Hospital.
In commenting on the settlement, U.S. Attorney Kacavas said, “This consent decree demonstrates that protecting the rights of individuals with disabilities is a priority at the U.S. Attorney’s Office. This office remains committed to improving the lives of individuals with disabilities and to ensuring that hospitals and other health care providers comply with their obligations under the ADA. It is vital that individuals who are deaf or hard-of-hearing are able to communicate effectively when they seek medical care. They need to be able to explain their conditions to their health care providers and they need to understand what their health care providers are telling them. My office will continue to investigate possible violations of the ADA and to educate health care providers in New Hampshire about the importance of communicating effectively with individuals who are deaf or hard-of-hearing.”
This case was handled by Assistant United States Attorney and Civil Chief Gretchen Leah Witt, with assistance from the Disability Rights Section of the Civil Rights Division at the United States Department of Justice.