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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Western District of Washington

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, October 19, 2021

DOJ and Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of Washington settle claims it failed to provide interpreter service to patients who are deaf and deaf-blind

Medical provider establishes $1 million claim fund for those whose rights were violated by failure to accommodate disability

Seattle – The U.S. Department of Justice and Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of Washington (KFHPW) today resolved allegations from several complainants that it repeatedly failed to provide interpreters to patients who are deaf or deaf-blind, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), announced U.S. Attorney Nicholas W. Brown.  The settlement establishes a $1 million fund to pay claims to those patients whose rights were violated.  KFHPW also agrees to update and improve procedures for evaluating the need for interpreters, contracting with interpreters, and training staff surrounding those procedures.

“When health care facilities fail to provide interpreters to patients and their families, including those who are who are deaf or hard of hearing, it creates a major barrier to safe and appropriate medical care.” said U.S. Attorney Brown.  “Our investigation uncovered evidence of systemic failures to provide interpreters when necessary, leading patients to delayed care and problems with communication. This settlement is a necessary step to ensuring that people receiving care through this system are able to communicate timely and effectively about their medical needs.”

An investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office revealed that in approximately 400 instances over a 4-year period, an interpreter was requested by KFPW staff, but none was provided, or other problems related to effective communication were raised by patients or their companions.

Under the terms of the settlement, KFHPW will establish a third-party claims administrator to allocate the settlement funds based on the harm suffered by each complainant.  The administrator will work with KFHPW records to locate claimants.  The U.S. Attorney’s Office will review the allocations after the claims have been submitted and reviewed.

For a two-year period, the U.S. Attorney’s Office will review new procedures and training of KFHPW staff to ensure patients who are deaf or deaf-blind receive appropriate interpreter services at the 41 medical facilities it operates in Northwest Washington, Central Washington, Eastern Washington, the Coastal and Olympic region, and Puget Sound.

Under the settlement some of the changes include: consistent screening of patients for the need of interpreter services; contracting with two interpreter services companies per facility to better provide services; contracting with video interpreter services for those occasions when in-person interpretation is not possible.  The policies surrounding interpreter services will be posted on the KFHPW website as well as in KFHPW facilities. KFHPW will keep logs of interpreter requests and how they were fulfilled.

In addition to the $1 million fund for claimants, KFHPW will pay $85,000 to the United States to resolve the allegations.

The investigation in this case was conducted by Assistant United States Attorney Christina Fogg, the Civil Rights Program Coordinator for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Washington.

Topic(s): 
Civil Rights
Disability Rights
Contact: 
Press contact for the U.S. Attorney’s Office is Communications Director Emily Langlie at (206) 553-4110 or Emily.Langlie@usdoj.gov.
Updated October 19, 2021