The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan has reached a settlement with a Saginaw hospital to ensure effective communication with individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing, U.S. Attorney Barbara L. McQuade announced Tuesday. The agreement under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) resolves a complaint filed with the U.S. Attorney’s Office alleging that HealthSource Saginaw failed to provide a sign language interpreter to a deaf patient at one of its outpatient clinics. HealthSource Saginaw fully cooperated with the investigation into this matter.
The settlement stemmed from a complaint submitted by a mother in Flint who alleged that HealthSource Saginaw violated the ADA by failing to provide appropriate auxiliary aids and services, including sign language interpreter services, to her teenage son, who is deaf, while he received outpatient treatment at the Saginaw hospital. According to the complaint, the minor was provided with an interpreter while receiving inpatient services at the hospital, but HealthSource Saginaw refused to provide him with an interpreter for follow-up outpatient treatment.
The ADA prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities by health care providers. To ensure that people with disabilities have equal access to health care services, medical providers are obligated to provide effective communication for patients and companions who are deaf or hard of hearing. This assistance may include providing sign language interpreters to ensure that patients who are deaf are able to communicate with their health care providers or providing other auxiliary aids or services that are appropriate under the circumstances at no cost to the patient. The appropriate aid or service depends on a variety of factors, including the nature, length, and importance of the communication; the context of the communication; the communication skills and knowledge of the individual who is deaf or hard of hearing; and the individual’s stated need for a particular type of auxiliary aid or service.
The settlement agreement requires HealthSource Saginaw to adopt specific policies and procedures to ensure that auxiliary aids and services are promptly provided to patients or companions who are deaf or hard of hearing, to provide training to hospital staff on the new policies and procedures and the overall requirements of the ADA; and to appoint an ADA coordinator at the hospital to ensure access to appropriate auxiliary aids and services.
“While this settlement demonstrates HealthSource Saginaw’s commitment to provide effective communication to people who are deaf or hard of hearing, this issue is much bigger than one hospital or one medical provider. More than 25 years after the enactment of the ADA, too many medical providers still fail to fulfill their obligations to provide effective communication to patients and their companions who are deaf. We will continue our enforcement efforts to raise awareness and to ensure that the promise of the ADA is a reality for all Americans,” said U.S. Attorney Barbara L. McQuade.
In the past year, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has resolved several cases involving equal access to health care for individuals with disabilities. These cases include doctors and medical offices that have failed to provide sign language interpreters to patients who are deaf and medical offices that have failed to make their procedures accessible for patients who use wheelchairs. The U.S. Attorney’s Office is continuing to investigate a number of other hospitals and medical offices to ensure that they are providing physical access to medical care for people with mobility disabilities, and effective communication for people who are deaf or hard of hearing, as part of the Department of Justice’s Barrier Free Healthcare Initiative.
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