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March 10, 2003

Hospital To Improve Services to Patients who are Deaf

From: WFTC, MN - 10 Mar 2003

Abbott Northwestern Hospital will improve its interpreter services for patients who are deaf or hard of hearing as part of a settlement announced Monday with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights.

The hospital also agreed to pay $20,000 to a deaf Minneapolis woman who accused Abbot Northwestern of discrimination after seeking emergency care in November 2001. As part of the settlement, Abbott Northwestern acknowledged no wronging doing but agreed to provide at least one qualified staff interpreter during regular business hours and employ at least three qualified on-call interpreters who will respond to after-hours requests.

The hospital also said it will maintain a response time of one hour or less in at least 80 percent of the nonscheduled interpreter requests and two hours or less in 100 percent of such instances. Lee Perish, who is deaf, filed the complaint against Abbott Northwestern after she sought care in the hospital's emergency room for breathing problems and severe abdominal pain.

The hospital called for an interpreter employed by a referral service, but Perish said the interpreter did not arrive promptly and did not have the training to provide services in a medical setting.

"The doctor kept insisting that surgery was going to be necessary, and that it should be done that evening," according to Perish's complaint. "I tried to explain I was a very high risk person for surgery."

In an investigation, the Department of Human Services found there was a probable cause to believe that Abbott Northwestern -- which is a part of Allina Hospitals and Clinics -- violated the state Human Rights Act by failing to reasonably accommodate Perish's disability when it provided inadequately trained interpreters.

"We sincerely regret Ms. Perish's experience, but her situation highlighted gaps in our service provision for deaf and hard of hearing patients and has helped us to make our service better," said Maria Hitateguy, manager of Allina Interpreter Services.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)