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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
District of Connecticut

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Agreement Ensures Effective Communication with Hearing Impaired Individuals at John Dempsey Hospital

Deirdre M. Daly, United States Attorney for the District of Connecticut, today announced that the John Dempsey Hospital, which is a part of the University of Connecticut Health Center, has entered into a voluntary resolution agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Connecticut and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office for Civil Rights (OCR), to ensure effective communication with, and enhance the quality of services for, persons who are deaf or hard of hearing.

This matter was initiated by a complaint filed with the Department of Justice (DOJ) by Connecticut’s Office of Protection and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities alleging violations of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  Specifically, the complaint alleges that an individual who is deaf and communicates using American Sign Language (ASL) was discriminated against and denied an interpreter when John Dempsey Hospital failed to timely provide auxiliary aids and services during an Emergency Department visit for medical treatment.  According to the complainant, she was forced to rely on her boyfriend’s limited ability to interpret her symptoms during the medical examination because her request for an ASL interpreter was denied by hospital staff.  Within two days after discharge, the complainant’s symptoms had escalated, and she ultimately had an emergency appendectomy at another hospital because her appendix had burst. 

Title II of the ADA prohibits public entities, including hospitals, from discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities by excluding such individuals from participation in or denying them the benefits of the services, programs, or activities of a public entity, or subjecting them to discrimination by any public entity.  A public entity is required to furnish appropriate auxiliary aids and services where necessary to afford individuals with disabilities, including applicants, participants, companions, and members of the public, an equal opportunity to participate in, and enjoy the benefits of, a service, program, or activity of a public entity.  The U.S. Attorney’s Office investigates allegations of violations of the ADA and commences enforcement action as and when appropriate.

In coordination with DOJ, HHS-OCR initiated a compliance review of John Dempsey Hospital with regard to the Hospital’s policies and procedures for ensuring effective communication with individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to determine the Hospital’s compliance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.  Section 504 of the Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.  The investigation raised concerns about the Hospital’s policies and procedures to ensure effective communication with deaf or hard of hearing individuals.

Under the agreement, which resolves both the DOJ complaint investigation and the HHS-OCR compliance review, John Dempsey Hospital is obligated to take critical steps toward improving access to ensure communication with deaf and hard of hearing individuals is as effective as communication with those without disabilities, including revising its policies and procedures, revising its training, and performing initial and ongoing assessments of the need for auxiliary aids and services for patients and their companions who are deaf or hard of hearing.

John Dempsey Hospital also has agreed to pay the complainant $20,000 to resolve the matter.

The agreement is effective for two years, during which time both HHS-OCR and the U.S. Attorney’s Office will monitor the Hospital’s compliance.

“An important component of our federal law enforcement responsibilities is the protection of vulnerable communities, especially people struggling with disabilities,” said U.S. Attorney Daly.  “Enforcement of the ADA is one of many tools we use to help achieve that goal.  We are gratified with the number of ADA settlements that we have reached with public and private entities in Connecticut, and applaud the level of cooperation that these entities have demonstrated.  UConn Heath Center, in particular, has already implemented a number of changes at John Dempsey Hospital that will benefit not only individuals who are deaf and hard of hearing, but others with a broad range of disabilities, and ultimately all hospital patrons and companions.”

A copy of the voluntary resolution agreement may be found at: www.ada.gov/jdh_sa.html.

This matter was handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Vanessa Roberts Avery.

To learn more about the ADA and its application to public entities, places of public accommodation and commercial facilities, call the Justice Department’s toll-free ADA information line at 800-514-0301 (TDD 800-514-0383) or visit www.ada.gov.

Topic(s): 
Civil Rights
Component(s): 
Updated January 5, 2017