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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Eastern District of Tennessee

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, December 1, 2016

Mountain States Health Alliance Settles Americans with Disability Act Claim with United States

GREENEVILLE, Tenn. - The United States reached a settlement on November 30, 2016, with Mountain States Health Alliance (MSHA), a not-for-profit health care organization based in Johnson City, Tenn., that operates 13 hospitals serving a 29-county region spanning northeast Tennessee, southwest Virginia, southeastern Kentucky, and western North Carolina.  In a complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee at Greeneville, Christopher and Donna Cantrell, both of whom are deaf, alleged that they were denied effective communication under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) during several admissions of their adult daughter to the Johnson City Medical Center (JCMC), a MSHA facility.  The admissions at JCMC, which totaled 115 days, were for treatment of high-grade Burkitt’s lymphoma.  Their daughter succumbed to the disease in May 2015 while she was still in the hospital.

The Cantrells alleged in the lawsuit that they were not provided with an interpreter or other auxiliary aid until shortly before their daughter’s death.  Instead, the Cantrells alleged that they were forced to rely on their daughter and other family members, all of whom were able to hear, to interpret for them.  As a result of the complaint, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Tennessee opened a civil investigation under the ADA.

As a result of the settlement, MSHA has agreed to implement measures for all of its hospitals that are aimed at protecting the rights of patients and companions who are deaf or hard of hearing.  Those measures include the following: (1) appointing an ADA administrator at each facility to provide oversight and guidance; (2) identifying services that can provide interpreters to each facility in a timely manner; (3) providing notice to patients and their companions of their rights under the ADA; (4) developing an assessment plan to effectively determine the appropriate auxiliary aid for each situation; (5) providing annual training about the rights afforded by the ADA and MSHA’s policy to meet those requirements; and (6) compliance reports to be submitted to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for monitoring.  The agreement is effective for 3 years.  In addition, MSHA will pay the United States a statutory penalty in the amount of $50,000. This is the largest civil penalty that any U.S. Attorney’s Office has received in a matter involving effective communication in hospital settings.

“Individuals who are deaf or hearing impaired must not be denied equal access to interpretive services in medical entities such as hospitals and other medical facilities that are covered under the ADA,” said U.S. Attorney Nancy S. Harr.  “I commend MSHA for cooperating in our investigation and working to promote more effective communications with persons who are deaf or hard of hearing.”

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kenny L. Saffles and Leah W. McClanahan represented the United States in the investigation.

Members of the public should be reminded that the claims settled by this agreement are allegations only and that there has been no determination of liability.

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Updated December 1, 2016