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Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Justice Department Reaches Settlement with Franciscan St. James Health to Stop Discrimination Against Persons with Hearing Disabilities

The Justice Department announced today a settlement with Franciscan St. James Health (St. James), to ensure that patients and companions who are deaf or hard of hearing receive sign language interpreters and other services necessary to ensure effective communication, in compliance with Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  St. James is a healthcare system providing comprehensive healthcare in Illinois including hospitals in Chicago Heights and Olympia Fields.  This settlement is part of the department’s Barrier-Free Health Care Initiative (initiative), a partnership of the Civil Rights Division and U.S. Attorney’s offices across the nation to ensure that people with disabilities, including those who are deaf or hard of hearing, who have HIV, and who have mobility disabilities, have equal access to medical services. 

The settlement with St. James is the fourth under the initiative since the start of the new fiscal year on Oct. 1, 2014, joining agreements signed in Edmonds, Washington; Stafford and Lake Ridge, Virginia; and Vero Beach, Florida.  Since its launch three years ago, the department has reached 25 agreements under the initiative.

The agreement was reached after the department investigated a complaint that a patient who is deaf was denied a sign language interpreter throughout her four day stay in the hospital. Title III of the ADA requires health care providers to ensure that their communications with people with hearing disabilities are as effective as their communications with people without disabilities. 

Under the settlement agreement, St James will ensure that the hospitals:

  • Provide auxiliary aids and services, including sign language interpreters, to people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing, within prescribed time frames and free of charge;

  • Designate an ADA Administrator;

  • Utilize their grievance resolution systems to investigate disputes regarding effective communication with deaf and hard of hearing patients;

  • Post notices of their effective communication policy;

  • Train hospital personnel on the effective communication requirements of the ADA;

  • File compliance reports with the Department of Justice; and

  • Pay damages in the amount of $70,000.00 to the complainant in this case.

“Next year as we mark the 25th anniversary of the enactment of the ADA, we will celebrate a quarter century of progress in eliminating the barriers that have historically kept people with disabilities from equal access to and the full enjoyment of services readily available to persons without disabilities,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta for the Civil Rights Division.  “But we must also acknowledge that even after all this time, there is still much to be done.  Effective communication in healthcare is one of those critical areas.”

The department has a number of publications available to assist entities to comply with the ADA, including a Business Brief on Communicating with People Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing in Hospital Settings, www.ada.gov/hospcombr.htm,  and publications specific to health care providers, HIV discrimination, and effective communication with people with hearing and vision disabilities, as well as publications about tax credits available for providing access. 

For more information on the ADA and to access these publications, visit www.ada.gov.    For more information on the Barrier Free Health Care Initiative visit www.ada.gov/usao-agreements.htm.  Those interested in finding out more about this settlement or the obligations of public accommodations 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.

Updated August 27, 2015