Hospitals lack sign language interpreters in ER

A review by STAT of court records and inspection reports of hospitals around the nation found dozens of instances in which deaf patients said they were not given adequate interpreter services.


In one instance, a man who thought he was suffering a heart attack was forced to wait anxiously while a nurse struggled to set up a video screen to connect him to a remote American Sign Language interpreter, according to the report. Eventually, hospital staff asked the man to instead communicate by writing notes.

"I wished I had four arms at the time," the man told STAT. "They were saying, 'Oh, I'm sorry, I can't find your vein,' while I'm trying to write them notes, trying to guide them."

Hospitals are challenged with the need to provide interpreters for numerous languages, including ASL. On-site interpreters can be expensive and difficult to find, leading many to seek video conferencing solutions with remote interpreters, according to the report. However, many deaf patients have complained about the use of remote interpreters in emergency rooms, namely over nurses who are not practiced in setting up the equipment or being unable to focus on the small screen.

The Americans with Disabilities Act requires all hospitals that receive federal money to provide deaf patients with adequate services to ensure effective communication, including on-site and remote ASL interpreting, handwritten notes and captioned telephones. The ACA mandates hospitals to give "primary consideration" to a patient's preference, though hospitals get to decide which services to offer.

The Department of Justice's Barrier-Free Health Care Initiative has settled 16 cases regarding interpreting services for deaf hospital patients since 2011, according to the report. Some settlements have reached $70,000.

Read the full story here.

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