Highline Medical Center Agrees to Settle Civil Rights Claims
Failed to Provide ASL Interpreter for Patient Recovering from Spine Surgery
Highline Medical Center, in Burien, Washington, a division of CHI Franciscan Health, reached a settlement today to resolve alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), announced U.S. Attorney Annette L. Hayes. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Washington began the investigation after a complainant, who is deaf, alleged that the hospital failed to provide him and his wife, who is also deaf, with sign-language interpreters so that both could understand the information provided by medical professionals following the complainant’s spinal surgery. Highline Hospital has agreed to pay the patient $25,000, and his wife $10,000. In addition, Highline will pay $10,000 to the United States in lieu of a civil penalty, and will implement a compliance plan to ensure full compliance with ADA requirements in the future.
“There is very little as important in the hospital than being able to communicate effectively with treatment providers,” said U.S. Attorney Annette L. Hayes. “The Americans with Disability Act ensures that at critical junctures in medical care those who need it – including those who are deaf or hard of hearing – have access to services such as ASL translators. The agreed compliance plan that is part of this settlement ensures that the U. S. Attorney’s Office can monitor continued compliance by Highline Medical Center for an extended period of time.”
According to the settlement, the patient uses American Sign Language (ASL) as his primary means of communication. He was a patient at Highline for a surgical procedure known as a cervical laminectomy between January 28, 2014, and January 31, 2014. The patient had requested that the hospital provide an ASL interpreter in advance of the surgery. However, at critical junctures in his care, such as the period immediately following surgery, and when medical staff provided discharge instructions, no interpreter was provided. The patient’s wife is also deaf and the lack of an interpreter meant she too was not able to effectively communicate with medical staff about her husband’s condition, including the extent of spinal damage that was discovered during surgery, the patient’s level of pain, information about post-operative care, and potential side effects from medication.
Under the terms of the settlement, and pursuant to the agreed compliance plan, Highline Medical Center will appoint an Assistive Device Point Person to ensure that appropriate aids, including Qualified ASL Interpreters, are provided free of charge to patients who need them. The medical center will maintain a log of all patients requesting interpretive services. There will be a grievance resolution system for disputes over services to patients who are deaf or hard of hearing. The hospital will also take steps to publicize its commitment to providing ASL interpreters for deaf and hard of hearing patients. Under the terms of the settlement, the U.S. Attorney’s Office is authorized to review Highline Medical Center’s compliance with the plan for three years.
This case is part of the Department of Justice’s Barrier-Free Health Care Initiative, which seeks to enforce the ADA’s prohibition of discrimination against disabled individuals by health care providers, including hospitals. Through the Barrier-Free Health Care Initiative, U.S. Attorneys’ offices across the nation and the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division target their enforcement efforts on this critical area for individuals with disabilities—access to medical services and facilities. The Barrier-Free Health Care Initiative is a multi-phase initiative that includes effective communication for people who are deaf or have hearing loss, physical access to medical care for people with mobility disabilities, and equal access to treatment for people who have HIV/AIDS.
The Department of Justice has a number of publications available to assist entities in complying with the ADA, including a Business Brief on Communicating with People Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing in Hospital Settings, at www.ada.gov/hospcombr.htm. For more information on the ADA and to access these publications, visit www.ada.gov or call the Justice Department’s toll-free ADA information Line at 800-514-0301 or 800-514-0383 (TTY). ADA complaints may be filed by email to firstname.lastname@example.org .
The case was handled by Assistant United States Attorney Christina Fogg in collaboration with Disability Rights Section of the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice.