Deaf Suing Hospital for Not Providing Communication; Seven Hearing-Impaired Patients Say Baptist Health Violated the Americans with Disabilities Act

Article excerpt

Byline: PAUL PINKHAM

One deaf hospital patient in Jacksonville Beach said she was given a stuffed monkey instead of the sign-language interpreter she requested for hours. Feeling isolated, she finally asked nurses for something to hold.

Another said she thought she was being denied medical care because there was no interpreter to explain why they needed her to wait in a hallway at Baptist Medical Center South. She later learned hospital staff lost a list of sign-language interpreters her mother had given them.

A third woman couldn't hear when emergency workers at Baptist Medical Center downtown called her name.

The three women are among seven hearing-impaired emergency-room patients suing Baptist Health Systems for violating the Americans With Disabilities Act by failing to provide qualified sign-language interpreters. The lawsuit was filed in federal court last week by Jacksonville Area Legal Aid.

Baptist spokeswoman Cindy Hamilton said the hospital hadn't been served with a copy of the lawsuit so she couldn't comment on it directly. But she said Baptist is committed to effective communication between staff and patients and their families, lists communication resources on its website and provides several means, including interpreters and devices, to facilitate communication.

She said the hospital hosted a community forum in 2008 to discuss the issue with hearing-impaired patients and visitors and is holding a series this summer about those patients' communication needs.

"It is the policy of Baptist Health to comply with all applicable laws and regulations relating to services to ... those who are deaf or hearing impaired or require the use of auxiliary aids," Hamilton said.

But Legal Aid attorney Sharon Caserta, who works with hearing-impaired clients, said the pattern of complaints at Baptist facilities from 2006 to 2009 indicated a breakdown in services that denied deaf patients full access to care.

She said the act requires interpreters or effective auxiliary aids to be provided if needed for communication with medical professionals. The U.S. Justice Department has interpreted the law to mean a one- to two-hour response time is reasonable after an interpreter has been requested, Caserta said.

In Northeast Florida, she said, that shouldn't be an issue because of a half-dozen organizations that provide interpretive services and the proximity of the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind in St. …