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HHS Office for Civil Rights and U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts Settle Disability Discrimination Case with Baystate Medical Center

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights (OCR), in partnership with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts (DOJ), entered into a Voluntary Resolution Agreement with Baystate Medical Center (Baystate), to ensure effective communication with individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504) and Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act of 2010 (Section 1557).

The Agreement resolves a complaint filed with DOJ on behalf of an individual who is deaf and utilizes American Sign Language (“ASL”), alleging that Baystate failed to furnish appropriate auxiliary aids and services necessary to effectively communicate with the patient. According to the complaint, despite requesting a qualified ASL interpreter prior to her scheduled arrival to induce labor, Baystate failed to take appropriate steps to ensure that its communications with her during labor and childbirth were effective.

OCR conducted an investigation of the complaint allegations, in partnership with DOJ, and reviewed Baystate policies and procedures for effective communication with individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing. Collectively, Section 504 and Section 1557 prohibit any entity that receives Federal financial assistance from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities, and requires an entity to take steps to ensure communication with individuals with disabilities is as effective as communication with others through the use of appropriate auxiliary aids and services.

As a result of the joint investigation, Baystate voluntarily entered this Agreement and affirmed its assurance of compliance with Section 504 and Section 1557. Under this Agreement, Baystate agreed to take steps to ensure the availability of auxiliary aids and services, and to monitor such steps. Additionally, Baystate has agreed to pay the parties to the agreement $135,000 in compensatory relief under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“At no time should any person have to undergo a health care procedure or receive services without the basic ability to communicate with their health care providers. This agreement underscores that the availability of auxiliary aids and services are essential to meaningful access to quality health care,” said OCR Director Lisa J. Pino. “Providers must understand their obligations under law and ensure patients can understand and communicate effectively so that no one’s health is jeopardized simply because a person is deaf or hard of hearing.”

“Effective communication between moms and healthcare providers is important – never more so than at childbirth,” said Acting United States Attorney Nathaniel R. Mendell. “This settlement is another example of the ADA at work – in this case ensuring that moms who are deaf or hard of hearing will receive services that provide necessary, effective communication with health care providers at Baystate Medical Center.”

The Voluntary Resolution Agreement may be found here: https://www.hhs.gov/civil-rights/for-providers/compliance-enforcement/agreements/baystate-medical-center-agreement/index.html

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Author: HHS Press Office

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