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Post date: June 21 2000

Spitzer Announces Agreement With Upstate Physician's Practice To Provide Sign Language Interpreters For Deaf Patients

Attorney General Spitzer today announced that his office has come to a groundbreaking agreement with a large upstate health care provider, requiring it to provide sign language interpreters for deaf and hearing impaired patients.

Over a year ago, Spitzer began an investigation into the matter following complaints from deaf or hearing impaired individuals that they were being denied interpreters and therefore were subject 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 a consent decree with Guthrie Medical Group, P.C., a physicians' practice with 13 offices throughout the Southern Tier of New York State, with the largest office located in Corning. The decree requires Guthrie to comply with the provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Earlier this month, the Attorney General's office entered into similar decrees with three New York City health care providers -- Montefiore Medical Center, New York Community Hospital, and United Medical Associates.

"We expect this agreement, as well as the three reached with New York City providers, to set an example, and model, 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 consent decree was filed in federal court in Albany this week. It requires that Guthrie:

  • Contract with interpreting services in order to provide interpreters for regularly scheduled appointments;

  • Provide interpreters upon request for all significant medical encounters;

  • Establish a TTY telephone line in its Corning office that can be called by deaf or hearing impaired 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 hearing impaired communities. All told, throughout Guthrie's 13 offices, hundreds of employees will be trained;

  • Establish record keeping requirements that will allow the Attorney General's office to monitor Guthrie's compliance with the decree, including logs recording each request for an interpreter, and the response to the request.

"I wish to commend this medical provider for working with us to come up with a solution that serves all of its patients," said Spitzer.

Together, the four decrees guarantee that sign language interpreters and other aids for the deaf or hearing impaired will be provided virtually upon demand in both hospitals and physicians' practices, in both rural and urban areas of New York State, and for both emergencies and regularly scheduled appointments. Under the decrees, thousands of health care workers will be trained about compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The case was 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.