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August 22, 2005

Chicago Area Deaf Access Program Serves 1,000Th Patient

From: Access Community Health Network, Chicago - Aug 22, 2005

AUGUST 22, 2005
Contact: Elaine Hegwood Bowen


Access Community Health Network and Sinai Health System have partnered on many health care initiatives throughout the years. But one that is worthy of great note is the Deaf Access Program that recently celebrated its 10th year and 1000th patient.

This innovative program has attracted patients from throughout the city and suburbs who find the services unmatched elsewhere.

Imagine living in a world where those around you are speaking, but you are unable to hear or partake in the conversation, or imagine lying in a hospital bed, signing the consent papers for a leg amputation without having any idea what you've signed because the medical words were never explained to you. For some Deaf and hard of hearing patients, these illustrations are reality.

To address these and patients' other concerns, the Deaf Access Program uses American Sign Language fluent doctors and interpreters to help them fully communicate with health care providers.

The program is staffed with professionals who understand the needs of the Deaf and hard of hearing communities from both sides of the table, and this empathy is apparent in the care that is given to patients.

"The Deaf Access Program is a culturally competent program," says lead physician Dr. Gary Kaufman, "because the people involved in the program, including the manager, therapists and interpreters are Deaf or come from Deaf families." This, combined with their experiences with the Deaf culture, fully equips them to help community members with various medical needs.

DAP has helped more than 1,000 patients in 10 years by providing a "seamless continuity of care."

Teri Hedding, Manager of the Program, echoed Dr. Kaufman's sentiments. "The Deaf Access Program is so unique because we are the only comprehensive program in the nation with a wide array of medical and mental health services for the Deaf," she said. "The Deaf community views us as one of the most accessible places for our services.
"In addition, it is very rare to see three signing doctors and three staff sign language interpreters in the same program."

Additionally, the program's patient advocate, Linda Perry, who helps patients with insurance and daily personal matters, was brought up in a home with deaf parents and uses American Sign as her first language.

The program also offers a myriad of health care specialties, including mental health services, which are crucial, because these services help patients tackle issues of depression, anxiety, anger or other feelings that interfere with normal daily life.

Another significant feature of the program is that interpreters are on call 24 hours a day to assist patients whenever they are needed. As a result, patients aren't forced to spend the entire night in the emergency room, waiting for regular daytime staff to arrive.

For the estimated 50,000 Deaf and hard of hearing individuals in the Chicago area, significant changes in technology have also made communication easier. "Deaf people have done wonders with email," Dr. Kaufman said.

This feeling of inclusion is one of the major aims of the program. Other innovations on the horizon include establishing video relay interpreting services for patients to use instead of TTY machines, Hedding added.

The Deaf Access Program's value to the community was recognized when the program recently received the New Freedom Foundation's Best Community Program Award. And with this 10th anniversary celebration, more than 250 adults and children not only recognized the program's importance to the Deaf and hard of hearing community but also gathered to have a good time.

"We were really proud of this celebration, because there are not many social events for Deaf patients in this area," Hedding said. "We could see that the patients really enjoyed themselves."

While interpreters will be provided for any scheduled visit, the full range of the Deaf Access Program is available at a number of ACCESS health centers, including Grand Boulevard Family Health Center on the South Side; Servicios Medicos La Villita on the West Side; ACCESS at Anixter Center and Peterson Family Health Center on the North Side; Kling Professional Medical Center located at Mount Sinai Hospital; and Martin T. Russo Family Health Center, located in Bloomingdale, Illinois. It is also available at our partner sites at the Touhy Health Center, Mount Sinai Hospital, Sinai Community Institute and Schwab Rehab.

ACCESS is comprised of 43 JCAHO accredited community health centers located throughout Chicago, including two located in DuPage County. It provides high quality, cost effective, safe, comprehensive primary and preventive health care to 200,000 individual patients annually, one-third of whom are uninsured.

The TTY number for the Deaf Access Program is 773.257.6289, and the voice number is 773.257.5125. To learn more about ACCESS health centers or other programs in your community, please call Elaine Hegwood Bowen, Media Coordinator, at 773.257.6599, email:, or call the toll free number at 1.866.88.ACCESS.