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May 5, 2003

Hospital settles with deaf woman

From: Chester Daily Local Online, PA - May 5, 2003

By Gina Zotti, Staff Writer
May 05, 2003

A West Bradford woman's voice has been heard, even though she cannot hear herself.

Beverly Ann Semanyk recently settled a lawsuit with The Chester County Hospital for an undisclosed sum of money and an agreement that the hospital provide comprehensive accommodations to the deaf community.

Semanyk, 59, said she hopes that other hospitals around the area will follow to assure that persons who are deaf or hard of hearing will be able to benefit from the same therapeutic services as every other patient.

In August and September 2000, Semanyk's father, Washington B. Fry Sr., was hospitalized for congestive heart failure and stroke. Fry and Semanyk, both of whom have been totally deaf since birth, requested an American Sign Language interpreter to communicate with hospital staff about Fry's treatment.

The suit was filed on behalf of Semanyk and her late father, Fry, who died on Sept. 30, 2000.

It alleged that the hospital repeatedly refused them these services and as a result, she and her father were unable to participate in his treatment.

"They failed us when we needed them most," Semanyk said in written response to questions. "I feel very frustrated, anger, feel so sick with myself, feel so hurt to see Dad alone without an interpreter while I was visiting him. It is a kind of abuse, negligence and ignorance."

She said she and her family felt frustrated that their requests were constantly ignored. "They don't understand our deaf culture at all," she said.

The lawsuit also alleged that the hospital had failed to obtain proper consents for certain medical procedures and at times ignored Fry's use of the call bell at his bedside by attempting to make contact with him by voice over the intercom system instead of visiting his room.

Semanyk's attorney, Gerard K. Schrom, said at times the nurses would merely raise their voices at Fry in attempts to communicate.

"It was like a really bad 'Saturday Night Live' skit where you have this man in distress who's deaf and that's the kind of responses that's generated," Schrom said. "I fault the hospital administration more than the doctors and nurses trying to do their jobs."

The hospital denied any wrongdoing, but agreed to implement remedies immediately.

"If and when any concerns were raised by the family, we worked to favorably resolve them," said Colleen Leonard Leyden, spokeswoman for The Chester County Hospital. "We were not aware of the patient's dissatisfaction until receiving notice of the suit."

The hospital said it had policies in effect to provide services for deaf or hard-of-hearing patients, but has made enhancements to be more up front about what services are available.

"We had services in place, but now they will literally receive a sheet of paper with the services," said Diann Riepen, manager of patient and customer relations and chairwoman of the cultural diversity and special needs committee at the hospital.

That paper will inform patients and their families of the services available at the hospital for hearing impaired customers including sign interpreter availability, a laptop computer if needed for translation, pen and paper, amplified telephone, closed caption TV, an amplification headset where a nurse could speak with a patient privately and TDD/TTY services.

"I am looking for all hospitals around to change and provide the interpreter letter so we won't be afraid from being misunderstood without the interpreter," Semanyk said. "That's why I am standing up and fight for deaf rights in any deaf community."

The action was filed in August 2002 in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania for non-compliance with the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act.

"We were trying to get things changed and not having to have anybody go through what my Dad and I did again," Semanyk said. "All hospitals should be aware that there are organizations in the area that provide interpreters for the deaf seven days a week, 24 hours a day.

"I am happy that Chester County Hospital has agreed to use these organizations to help deaf patients in a more effective way than they have in the past."

©Daily Local News 2003