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December 9, 2004

Hospital owner to improve services for deaf patients

From: Duluth News Tribune, MN - Dec 9, 2004


MINNEAPOLIS - Hospital owner Fairview Health Services has agreed to pay $208,000 to settle complaints for failing to provide qualified sign language interpreters and other services to deaf patients, the U.S. Attorney for Minnesota announced.

Tom Heffelfinger said at a news conference Wednesday that the settlement covers four Fairview hospitals in the metro area and one in Princeton, Minn. The consent degree containing the settlement will expire in three years.

Three deaf patients filed complaints between February and November 2003 after undergoing procedures at Fairview hospitals.

According to the complaints, Fairview failed to provide qualified sign language interpreters and other auxiliary aids to the patients or their families.

Under the settlement, Fairview will pay civil penalties of $20,000 each to the United States and Minnesota; $41,000 compensation each to deaf patient Michael White and his deaf wife, Linda, who donated a kidney to her husband; $41,000 to deaf patient Ariana DeMarco and $22,500 to her deaf husband, Michael DeMarco; and $22,500 to Julie Oberley, widow of deaf patient Robert Oberley.

In the kidney transplant case, the Whites saidFairview-University Medical Center provided one interpreter to serve the recipient and the donor. The interpreter shuttled between rooms, sometimes on separate floors, during pre- and post-surgery meetings.

White said he was shocked that there weren't two interpreters because it had been arranged for in advance.

In the Oberley case, the company hired an interpreter who had trouble communicating complex medical terms. In the DeMarco case, Fairview did not provide an interpreter and failed to provide telecommunications technology so that a deaf patient could communicate with friends and relatives after the patient's surgery.

"Deaf patients must be given the ability to communicate effectively with their doctors and other health care professionals regarding their treatment and care," Heffelfinger said.

He called the settlement a national model for enforcement of the Americans with Disabilities Act because the agreement ensures sign language interpreters in the affected hospitals will be readily available and highly qualified.

In a statement, Fairview apologized to the plaintiffs for not fully accommodating them.

"Fairview takes these concerns seriously," the organization said. "We have worked with the U.S. attorney's office, state of Minnesota and legal counsel for the patients for over a year to identify ways to improve our processes."

During that time, Fairview said that, among other things, it has hired a manager of interpreter services and two dedicated sign language interpreters and replaced the agency that had been providing additional interpreters for the hospitals.

Under the settlement, Fairview agreed to provide full-time sign language interpreters at each of the five hospitals. The deal calls for the company to hire only interpreters with the highest qualifications.

The settlement decree covers Fairview-University Medical Center in Minneapolis; Fairview-Southdale Hospital in Edina, Minn.; Fairview-Ridges Hospital in Burnsville, Minn.; Fairview Northland Regional Hospital in Princeton; and Fairview Lakes Regional Medical Center in Wyoming, Minn.

© 2004 Duluth News Tribune and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.