Agreement Provides Hospital Interpreters For Deaf

Attorney General Spitzer today announced that his office has come to a first-ever agreement with three New York City area health care providers, requiring them to provide sign language interpreters for deaf and hard of hearing patients.

Over a year ago, Spitzer began an investigation into the matter following numerous complaints from deaf or hard of hearing individuals that they were being denied interpreters and therefore were subjected to unequal medical treatment because of their inability to communicate with medical personnel about their symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment.

The Attorney General's office has entered into consent decrees with Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, and New York Community Hospital and United Medical Associates in Brooklyn, requiring them to comply with the provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

"We expect these agreements to set examples, and models, for all hospitals and doctors' groups throughout the state," said Spitzer. "The quality of a patient's health care should not be compromised because of a disability- not only is it wrong, it's illegal."

The complaints filed with Spitzer's office included that of a deaf man who needed eye surgery and was denied an interpreter. Instead, he was told that his daughter, who lives out of state but was familiar with American Sign Language, should move back to serve as his interpreter.

The consent decrees require that the providers:

  • Contract with interpreting services that will guarantee the presence of an interpreter in less than an hour in emergency situations or where little or no prior notice has been given, as well as for regularly scheduled appointments;
  • Establish a TTY telephone line that can be called by deaf or hard of hearing patients;
  • Undertake extensive annual training of all personnel involved in the delivery of health care services about the requirements of the law and the consent decrees, as well as general education about the needs of the deaf and hard of hearing communities. More than 5,000 doctors, nurses, and health care workers will be trained;
  • Establish record keeping requirements that will allow the Attorney General's office to monitor the groups' compliance with the decrees, including logs recording each request for an interpreter or other aid, and the response to the request.

The consent decrees were filed in Brooklyn and Manhattan federal courts this week. They cover Montefiore's in patient facilities, two emergency departments and dozens of outpatient clinics, New York Community Hospital's in patient facilities and Brooklyn emergency ward, and United Medical Associates' seven offices.

"I want to commend these three medical providers for working with us to come up with a solution that serves all of their patients," said Spitzer.

The cases were handled by Assistant Attorneys General Hilary B. Klein and Ruti K. Bell of the Civil Rights Bureau under the supervision of Bureau Chief Andrew Celli, Jr. and Deputy Bureau Chief Mark Peters.