:: Deaf woman sues hospital for poor treatment – Examiner.com ::

Deaf woman sues hospital for poor treatment – Examiner.com

May 1, 2007
by Danielle Ulman, The Examiner

When Alma Andrews entered the hospital with severe stomach pain, she couldn’t communicate what ailed her.

Hospital staff members refused to offer the deaf woman a qualified sign language interpreter.

Instead, the Baltimore woman was forced to communicate through passed notes and gestures during the January 2006 visit. When her pain became debilitating, her deaf sister wrote the notes for her.

Andrews was hospitalized for 12 days over the next four months. She spoke through a live interpreter on two occasions and four more times used an interpreter through Deaf-Talk, a video teleconferencing system that she said did not always work.

Now, Andrews is suing University of Maryland Medical System and member hospital Baltimore Washington Medical Center, according to court documents.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, Andrews should have received effective communication, but disability experts said the ADA was unclear whether or when the law requires hospitals to use live interpreters for the deaf.

“The ADA provides that an individual with a disability should receive adequate care,” said Donald Stone, a University of Baltimore School of Law professor who teaches law and disability.

“In a hospital setting where time may be critical and where accuracy is highly critical, they should do what’s reasonable and be sure that information is conveyed accurately and quickly,” Stone said. “The question will turn on what is considered a reasonable accommodation.”

Hiring a live interpreter costs hospitals $60 an hour, and interpreters generally require a two-hour minimum. Interpreters are rarely immediately available, so deaf patients are left to wait, sometimes for hours, before the interpreter arrives.

Hospitals looking to cut costs — including 13 in the Baltimore area — employ the services of Deaf-Talk, which costs $7 a minute and a monthly subscription fee, said Dave Stauffer, company vice president and co-owner.

None of the parties involved in the lawsuit would comment, but court records show Andrews seeks equal access to hospital services and a promise that the hospital will comply with and pay for requests to use interpreter services, as well as Deaf-Talk training for employees, damages and legal fees.

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