[Paleopsych] Deaf Patients Sue Laurel Regional Hospital

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Sat Feb 5 10:58:45 UTC 2005

Deaf patients sue Laurel Regional 
By Steve Eifler 

Seven deaf patients are suing Laurel Regional Hospital, claiming that it
failed to provide them effective means of communication in critical
medical situations.

The Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs and
the law firm of Sutherland, Asbill and Brennan LLP filed the civil
rights lawsuit Tuesday in U.S. District Court.

The plaintiffs say they were denied qualified sign language interpreter
services, despite their requests for such, according to a statement
issued by Sutherland, Asbill and Brennan. The plaintiffs allege that
they were instead provided with inadequate video interpreting, cryptic
notes or, most often, no communication at all, the statement said.

Laurel Regional spokeswoman Tracey Veihmeyer said she was not able to
comment on the lawsuit.

The suit alleges that the plaintiffs were unable to provide informed
consent to treatment, were denied the opportunity to participate in
their treatment and were denied the full benefit of the health-care
services provided by Laurel Regional, in violation of the Americans with
Disabilities Act (ADA) and other laws, according to the statement.

Elaine Gardner, director of the Washington Lawyers' Committee Disability
Rights Project, said deaf patients should receive the same level of
effective communication provided for hearing patients. "The ADA is
clear: deaf patients have the right to understand, and be understood by,
their medical providers," she said in a written statement.

According to the lawsuit, one of the seven plaintiffs, Elizabeth
Gillespie of Laurel, went to Laurel Regional's emergency room on Nov. 1,
2003 to receive treatment for severe abdominal pain, nausea and
vomiting, among other symptoms.

Gillespie was required to wait hours, denied numerous requests for an
in-person interpreter, and was prepared for medical tests in a manner
that was humiliating, including having a male attendant snap her bra as
a means of communicating with her that it needed to be removed, the suit

Plaintiffs in the suit also include Laurel residents David Irvine
(Gillespie's husband), Cary Barbin, Kathryn Hale and Xiomara Porras. The
sixth plaintiff is Brian Leffler, formerly of Laurel and now of
Virginia. The seventh plaintiff is Erin Whitney, formerly of College
Park and now of California.

Under the ADA, discrimination includes the failure to provide auxiliary
aids and services. The term "auxiliary aids and services" under the ADA
includes "qualified interpreters" who make "aurally delivered materials
available to individuals with hearing impairments," according to
Sutherland, Asbill and Brennan.

The lawsuit says Laurel Regional used video-remote interpreting for
communication, wherein a translator assists through video-conferencing

"This is not an indictment of video interpreting," Lewis Wiener, a
litigation partner with Sutherland, said in a written statement.

"Rather, the question is whether, based on the facts, Laurel Hospital's
use of video remote interpreting and its refusal to provide these
individuals with in-person interpreters meets the requirements of the
ADA," Wiener said in the statement. "In this case it clearly did not.
Laurel Hospital's failure to provide effective communication has
directly injured and continues to injure the plaintiffs."

Wiener has offered his legal services to the plaintiffs without charge.

The suit seeks an order requiring the hospital to provide deaf
individuals with effective means of communication, including qualified
sign-language interpreters and close-captioned televisions. The suit
also seeks compensatory and punitive damages and attorneys fees and

E-mail Steve Eifler at seifler at patuxent.com.

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