Overlake Medical Center Agrees to Settle Civil Rights Claims
The U.S. Department of Justice and Overlake Medical Center have entered into a settlement agreement to remedy alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), announced United States 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 she requested an ASL interpreter in advance of a scheduled, induced delivery at the hospital in June 2014. Despite assurances that one would be provided, no interpreter was present as the labor escalated, eventually resulting in a cesarean section. In addition, the complainant’s partner, who is also deaf, was also not provided an interpreter. He also was excluded from the delivery room during the birth because complainant’s mother (who was attempting to provide basic ASL interpretation to her daughter) was counted as complainant’s choice of “companion” during the birth.
“The ability to communicate effectively with health care providers is essential – especially during a critical event like the birth of a child,” said U.S. Attorney Annette L. Hayes. “This resolution demonstrates our unwavering commitment to protect the civil rights of all Americans, including those who are deaf or hard of hearing. This settlement will not only resolve this particular case, but ensures that future patients who are treated at Overlake Medical Center will receive assistance so that they can communicate with their doctors and other caregivers.”
Under the settlement signed today, the hospital admits no law violation, wrongdoing or misconduct but agreed to: (1) adopt policies and procedures that ensure that individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing receive auxiliary aids and/or services (including sign language interpreters when necessary) that ensure effective communication; (2) train its staff on the ADA’s effective communication requirements; and (3) pay $200,000 in settlement. Under the terms of the agreement, $75,000 of the settlement will be paid to the complainant; $25,000 will be paid to her partner; $25,000 will be paid to her mother (for associational discrimination), and $75,000 will be paid in lieu of a civil penalty to the United States.
Complainant scheduled an induced labor at Overlake Medical Center, in part, so that she could be assured that an ASL interpreter would be available during her labor and delivery process. Complainant requested an ASL interpreter 10 days in advance of her induction, but when she arrived for the procedure was told an interpreter was not immediately available to assist. Although the hospital subsequently provided an interpreter for part of complainant’s labor, when that interpreter’s shift ended, the hospital (having failed to plan for any replacement) was unable to find another interpreter to assist. As a result, complainant and her partner were only able to communicate with hospital staff through handwritten notes while her labor increased and complications ensued. Eventually, complainant’s mother, who taught herself some ASL when complainant was young, arrived and attempted to provide basic interpretation for complex medical concepts and procedures, including interpreting during complainant’s cesarean surgery. Complainant subsequently notified the United States Attorney’s Office of the alleged ADA violation. The U.S. Attorney’s Office investigated and found that the hospital discriminated against complainant and her companions by failing to ensure effective communication and by engaging in associational discrimination. Overlake Medical Center fully cooperated with the investigation and settlement of this matter.
In a related matter, complainant also alleged that Overlake Obstetricians and Gynecologists, P.C., which provided her pre-natal care, similarly violated her rights under the ADA when it failed to provide an ASL interpreter for four of her nineteen office visits. The U.S. Attorney’s Office investigated this matter as well and confirmed the violation. That matter was resolved by a Letter of Resolution, under which the clinic agreed to make changes to its policies, procedures, and training and agreed to pay the complainant $3,500 in settlement.
These cases are 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’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 http://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.
Both matters were 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.