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Justice News

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

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, October 30, 2014

Swedish Hospital Agrees to Settle Claim that it Failed to Provide Effective Communication Services for Individuals who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing

The U.S. Department of Justice and Swedish Edmonds Hospital have entered into a settlement agreement to remedy alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), announced Acting 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 during an emergency room visit to the hospital for her 13-year-old son she requested a sign language interpreter, but none was provided.  During the more than five hours in which her son was treated at the hospital following a severe fall, he underwent an EKG, blood draws, and stitches.  Because no sign language interpreter was made available, the complainant relied upon a non-medically certified interpreter on loan from her son’s school in order to communicate with doctors and staff regarding her son’s medical treatment.

“Every parent understands the importance of being able to communicate directly with a child’s healthcare provider, especially in a hospital setting,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Annette L. Hayes.  “This resolution demonstrates our unwavering commitment to protect the rights of those who are deaf or hard of hearing and to ensure that they too are able to communicate with health care professionals.”

Under the settlement reached October 10, 2014, 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 insure effective communication; (2) train its staff on the ADA’s effective communication requirements; and (3) pay $3,000 to the complainant.

This case is a 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 (TDD). ADA complaints may be filed by email to ada.complaint@usdoj.gov.

This matter was handled by Assistant United States Attorney Christina Fogg.

Updated March 20, 2015