Seattle – The U.S. Department of Justice and Swedish Medical Center First Hill have settled allegations that the medical center violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in its care and treatment of three different patients with vision and hearing impairments, announced U.S. Attorney Brian T. Moran. Swedish will pay $50,000 to the government and $90,000 to the impacted individuals whose rights were violated. Swedish Medical Center First Hill will make significant changes to its policies and procedures and to its training programs to ensure it meets the needs of all patients who have hearing or visual impairments.
“In this, the 30th year of the Americans with Disabilities Act, it is critical that all organizations—but especially health care providers—deliver services in a way that meets the needs of people with different impairments,” said U.S. Attorney Brian T. Moran. “I am pleased to see that Swedish is adopting a detailed plan to improve its services and will report back to my office on its ongoing efforts.”
The ADA mandates that public accommodations, including healthcare providers, provide auxiliary aids and services free of charge to patients who need them in order to communicate effectively. According to the settlement documents, on multiple occasions Swedish First Hill failed to provide qualified tactile or sign language interpreters to communicate with two patients who are deaf-blind and one who is deaf. The medical center failed to provide patient D.A. who is deaf‑blind with a qualified tactile interpreter necessary to effective communication on several occasions in 2018, including pre-surgical consultation, surgery, and post-surgical care. At times, D.A. was offered video remote interpreting (“VRI”), which relies on the ability to see a screen. In order to communicate at all, D.A.’s brother was put in the difficult position of serving as both a supportive companion and medical interpreter, a position for which he is not qualified. Swedish is paying D.A. $50,000 and his brother $10,000 as part of the settlement.
A second patient who is deaf-blind, B.V., also did not get a qualified tactile interpreter necessary to effective communication during his March 2019 visit to the emergency room and during his discharge from the hospital. B.V. was also offered VRI instead of a tactile interpreter. B.V. will receive $15,000 as part of the settlement.
Finally, the medical center failed to provide J.A. who is deaf with a qualified American Sign Language (“ASL”) interpreter necessary to effective communication during her post-surgical consultation/discharge meeting with her health care provider. J.A. is also receiving $15,000 as part of the settlement.
Under the terms of the settlement, Swedish will train staff on new procedures for ensuring qualified interpreters are present for patients who need them. The hospital will log the use of interpreters and provide that information to the U.S. Attorney’s Office every six months. Further, the medical center will notify the U.S. Attorney’s Office of any complaints alleging that Swedish First Hill failed to provide auxiliary aids and services to patients or companions who are deaf, deaf-blind, or hard of hearing, or otherwise failed to provide effective communication with such patients or companions.
The investigation and settlement were handled by Assistant United States Attorney Christina Fogg. Ms. Fogg coordinates the Civil Rights Program for the U.S. Attorney’s Office.