[lg policy] Iowa: Hospital settles suit from deaf woman whose 7-year-old had to translate for her

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Sat Mar 31 14:59:23 UTC 2012

Hospital settles suit from deaf woman whose 7-year-old had to translate for her
5:35 PM, Mar. 30, 2012  |

A deaf woman who was forced to rely on her 7-year-old daughter to
translate medical instructions into American Sign Language has won
money and policy changes from Fort Dodge’s hospital.

Jessie Fox filed a federal lawsuit last year against Trinity Regional
Medical Center, which agreed this week to settle the matter. The
hospital will pay nearly $200,000 to Fox, her family and two other
deaf people, and it has pledged to make sign-language interpreters or
video interpretation services readily available to people who need

Fox, 31, who is profoundly deaf, contended that the hospital failed to
heed her request for an interpreter in 2009, when her daughter,
Addison, was about to have surgery. Addison had to serve as Fox’s
interpreter, which led to a misunderstanding about medication the girl
was supposed to receive after the operation. No physical harm was
done, but Fox said the incident humiliated her and compounded the
family’s stress. Two other people with similar experiences joined the
lawsuit against Trinity.

Her lawyer, Jill Zwagerman of Des Moines, said Fox’s main goal was to
show deaf people that they could achieve change if they stood up for
their rights. Zwagerman said Trinity leaders made a good-faith effort
to make interpreters more available. “It is difficult for hospitals,
but the law is in place for a reason. And the law says interpreters
are to be provided,” she said. Without them, she said, deaf people’s
health can be jeopardized.

Federal prosecutors began an investigation after the civil-rights
lawsuit was filed, and they helped negotiate this week’s settlement.
Similar allegations were made in two lawsuits against Des Moines’
Mercy Medical Center, which settled the cases last fall and also
promised to provide sign-language interpreters to deaf patients.

Trinity agreed to pay $80,000 to Fox, $19,000 each to her daughter and
mother, and $40,000 each to the other two plaintiffs. The hospital
also agreed to pay $20,000 to the federal government, which oversees
such issues under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The hospital promised that its staff will ask patients and their
companions if they are deaf or hard of hearing. People who need
assistance will be offered either an online video-interpretation
service, similar to Skype, or an in-person interpreter. The hospital
promised to fulfill requests for an in-person interpreter for people
who have previously scheduled appointments or who are hospitalized as

Trinity spokeswoman Shannon McQuillen said the hospital is committed
to serving its patients and fulfilling its legal responsibilities. The
hospital improved its interpretation services after Fox raised the
issue in 2009, and it already has taken most of the steps called for
in the legal settlement, she said.

McQuillen noted that hospital interpreters for the deaf must be fluent
in American Sign Language and familiar with medical terminology. “That
narrows a pool that already was a pretty small pool to begin with,”
she said. The hospital hires interpreters from throughout Iowa. It
pays about $60 per hour, including travel time, so interpretation for
a single appointment can cost hundreds of dollars, which the hospital
must bear. The service is needed there a few times a month, she said.

Activists for the deaf say the issue involves basic civil rights. They
say written notes are no substitute for an interpreter, because
American Sign Language is a separate language from English. That means
many people aren’t as proficient in English as many hearing people
are, and reliance on it could lead to dangerous misunderstandings.
Many deaf people are comfortable with video services, they say, but
some have trouble following an interpreter giving signs on a
television screen.


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