DOJ settles with hospital over sign language services

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A doctor speaks to a patient with the help of an ASL interpreter

Hospital Will Provide ASL Interpreters

While hiking with her then five-year-old son in the San Bernardino National Forest in summer 2012, Trixy Betsworth’s husband was struck by lightning.

Airlifted to Arrowhead Medical Center, her husband remained hospitalized for three days. Trixy, obviously concerned about his condition, repeatedly requested that the hospital provide a sign language interpreter for the couple, both of whom are deaf.

For three days, the hospital refused.

“A life-threatening situation was made worse by the fact that neither my husband nor I were able to communicate adequately with the hospital personnel,” Trixy Betsworth said in a news release from the Disability Rights Legal Center, whom along with attorneys from Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Floma, filed a discrimination complaint with the Department of Justice on her behalf.

Three years later, the DOJ and the ARMC have reached a legal settlement.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, public entities, such as hospitals, must “take appropriate steps” to provide communications with people with disabilities that are “as effective as” those for people without disabilities.

Accordingly, the agreement, announced August 26, requires the 456-bed hospital to take steps to ensure an in-person interpreter is available to patients within two hours in emergency situations. In the alternative, upon request, it must provide Video Remote Interpreting equipment within 20 minutes.

In addition, ARMC must revise its official communication policy and modify its patient intake form. It must also provide specialized ADA training for hospital staff, monitor the effectiveness of contracted interpreters, and submit compliance reports to the DOJ.

“People who are deaf or hard of hearing have a right to clear and effective communication with physicians, nurses and all hospital staff members in order to ensure that they and their loved ones receive the same medical care that is available to every other person,” said U.S. Attorney Eileen M. Decker of the Central District of California in a news release. “This settlement is the latest step in the Justice Department’s ongoing efforts to eliminate discriminatory barriers of all kinds.”

The agreement was filed the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.