Monday, September 14, 2009

Fort Washington Medical Center to Ensure Effective Communication for Deaf or Hard of Hearing Patients

Source Link - Fort Washington Medical Center to Ensure Effective Communication for Deaf or Hard of Hearing Patients

Under a settlement agreement reached with the U.S. Department of Health and
Human Services, deaf patients at the Fort Washington Medical Center in Prince
George`s County, Md., will be screened and provided with sign language
interpreters whenever interpreter services are necessary for effective
communication.

The settlement was negotiated following an investigation by the Department`s
Office for Civil Rights (OCR) in response to a complaint from a deaf patient.
The man entered the emergency room late one evening accompanied by his
11-year-old son. Although the man and his son requested an interpreter, none was
provided, and the medical staff relied on the son to interpret for his father in
the emergency room.

Federal laws prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities, and
require entities such as hospitals to provide effective communication for
persons who are deaf or hard of hearing. OCR found that Fort Washington Medical
Center violated the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 when it failed to provide the
deaf patient with an interpreter during his emergency room visit.

OCR Director Georgina Verdugo states, "Hospitals have a legal obligation to
ensure that qualified interpreters are available when needed for effective
communication with deaf or hard of hearing persons, rather than relying on
family members. This agreement helps the Fort Washington Medical Center fulfill
this legal obligation by providing deaf or hard of hearing persons with
appropriate language assistance to ensure effective communication."

"The Washington Lawyers` Committee for Civil Rights & Urban Affairs applauds
this settlement agreement, which will go far to ensure that hearing children of
deaf parents are not required to act as interpreters for their parents in health
care and other serious situations. This practice harms both the deaf parent and
the child, and does not ensure effective communication for the deaf person in
these critical moments," said E. Elaine Gardner, director, Disability Rights
Project, Washington Lawyers` Committee, who filed the complaint on behalf of the
deaf patient.

"We recognize the importance of accurate communication with patients, and we
enthusiastically embrace the new procedures which are being implemented. Our
goal is to ensure that all patients are able to communicate effectively with our
health care providers," said Verna S. Meacham, Fort Washington Medical Center`s
president and chief executive officer.

A copy of the OCR letter of finding and the settlement agreement, along with
more information about OCR`s civil rights enforcement activities, can be found
at www.hhs.gov/ocr/civilrights/activities/agreements/.

OCR is partnering with the American Hospital Association and state hospital
associations across the nation to raise awareness about requirements of the
federal law. More information about the Effective Communication in Hospitals
Initiative can be found at
http://www.aha.org/aha/issues/Disparities/resources.html.

Note: All HHS press releases, fact sheets and other press materials are
available at http://www.hhs.gov/news.

HHS Press Office
202-690-6343