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Post date: November 13 2014

A.G. Schneiderman Secures Agreement With Finger Lakes Health Network Expanding Accommodations For The Deaf And Hard-of-Hearing

Network To Improve Policies Ensuring Doctors, Nurses, And Other Staff Are Able To Communicate Effectively With Patients And Their Companions In Region With Large Elderly And Hard of Hearing Population

Schneiderman: Health Care Must Be Available To All New Yorkers, Regardless Of Disability

NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced an agreement with the Finger Lakes Health network of hospitals and healthcare facilities to strengthen its policies concerning communication with patients and their family members or companions who are deaf or hard of hearing.  The agreement will expand access to sign-language interpreters, as needed, and improve policies and training to ensure that medical staff members are able to effectively communicate with the deaf and hard of hearing.  

“Access to healthcare should be available to every New Yorker, regardless of a disability,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “My office is committed to ensuring that hospitals and other healthcare facilities provide effective communication, as required by law, so that people can understand what their doctors are telling them, and so they get the healthcare they need and deserve.”

In cooperation with the Attorney General’s Office, Finger Lakes Health agreed to improve its policies to ensure that doctors, nurses, and other staff communicate effectively with individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing.  Finger Lakes Health has agreed to expand access to communication aids and services, including qualified sign-language interpreters, to patients and their companions as required by law; strengthen its policies and training protocols for evaluating and meeting the needs of individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing; and improve its procedures for recordkeeping and investigation of complaints.

According to U.S. Census estimates, more than 700,000 New Yorkers are either deaf or have serious difficulty hearing, including more than 60,000 residents of the Finger Lakes region.  

The Finger Lakes Health network includes two hospitals, two surgery centers, and eight other healthcare facilities, including nursing homes, located across the Finger Lakes region of New York.  The region is home to large deaf and hard-of-hearing populations.  The Rochester metro area is home to the National Technical Institute for the Deaf and has the largest per capita working-age deaf population in the nation.  In addition, hearing loss is one of the most common conditions affecting elderly individuals, and the Finger Lakes region is home to a substantial population of seniors.  

Michael Schwartz, associate professor at the Syracuse University College of Law and director of the Disability Rights Clinic, said, “Deaf and hard-of-hearing people are entitled to effective communication under state and federal laws, and all places of public accommodation, including hospitals, clinics, and medical offices, must provide sign-language interpreters if needed to ensure effective communication.  With this agreement, Finger Lakes Health recognizes its obligation under our laws to accommodate members of the deaf and hard-of-hearing community who need access to its services.  Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is to be applauded for securing an agreement that promotes equal access for patients and their companions.”

Matthew Starr, a board member at Partners in Deaf Health which organizes the Finger Lakes Deaf Health Fair and other events promoting access to healthcare for deaf New Yorkers, said, “When communication barriers in healthcare settings are removed, members of the deaf community can decide on healthcare treatment options in a more equitable and timely manner. This agreement, along with efforts to educate and advocate for communications accessibility, helps to ensure that deaf patients do not forego meeting their immediate health needs due to communication barriers.”

This matter is being handled by Assistant Attorneys General Mayur Saxena, Ajay Saini, and Anjana Samant of the Attorney General’s Civil Rights Bureau, which is led by Bureau Chief Kristen Clarke.  

The Civil Rights Bureau is part of the Attorney General’s Social Justice Division.  The Executive Deputy Attorney General for Social Justice is Alvin Bragg.The Civil Rights Bureau of the Attorney General’s Office is committed to protecting the rights of individuals with disabilities throughout New York State.  To file a civil rights complaint, contact the Attorney General’s Office at (212) 416-8250, civil.rights@ag.ny.gov or visit www.ag.ny.gov.

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