Hospital Settles Lawsuit Concerning Interpreter, Deceased Patient

hands using sign language

by Andy Jones
December 23, 2016

The Department of Justice and the Mountain States Health Alliance announced a settlement December 1 in a lawsuit centered a hospital's treatment of a deaf patient who spent 115 days hospitalized prior to her death in May 2015.

Disability Rights Tennessee and the National Association of the Deaf filed the lawsuit on behalf of Christopher and Donna Cantrell in December 2015. The Cantrells argued that their 21-year-old daughter, Sydnei, who was battling Burkitt’s lymphoma, was denied “effective communication” with hospital staff, as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Specifically, they argued that the sign language interpreter provided by the hospital did not clearly communicate with them, and otherwise did not meet the ADA’s standard for a “qualified interpreter.” Furthermore the videoconferencing system supplied had a lag and produced choppy and blurry images.

The DOJ later intervened in the litigation, prompting the parties to reach a comprehensive settlement and a $50,000 civil fine, the largest civil penalty that any U.S. Attorney’s Office has received in a matter involving effective communication in hospital settings.

“Individuals who are deaf or hearing impaired must not be denied equal access to interpretive services in medical entities such as hospitals and other medical facilities that are covered under the ADA,” U.S. Attorney Nancy S. Harr said in a news release. “I commend MSHA for cooperating in our investigation and working to promote more effective communications with persons who are deaf or hard of hearing.”

Under the settlement, MSHA, which operates 13 hospitals in four states, must appoint an ADA administrator at each of its locations and undergo a plan to identify services to provide interpreters in a timely manner and provide appropriate auxiliary aids.

Moreover, it must provide notice to patients, and their families, of their ADA rights and implement an annual staff training plan, among other changes.

“The Cantrells’ story is not isolated and we continue to work with deaf/hard of hearing clients who routinely experience discrimination in accessing health care,” Francisca Guzman, director of development & community relations for Disability Rights Tennessee, told the Kingsport Times-News.

Disability Rights Washington and Disability Rights Tennessee are the designated protection and advocacy agencies in Washington and Tennessee, respectively, and are members of the National Disability Rights Network.