The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Office for Civil Rights (OCR), has entered into a Voluntary Resolution Agreement (VRA) with Mid-Maryland Musculoskeletal Institute (MMI). The agreement resolves a complaint alleging that MMI did not ensure effective communication with a deaf or hard of hearing patient, in violation of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504) and Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act (Section 1557). MMI is an orthopedic practice in Maryland that provides a full-range of orthopedic services, including onsite physical therapy. MMI receives Federal financial assistance (FFA) through its participation in the Medicare and Medicaid programs and is subject to the requirements of Section 504 and Section 1557.
The complaint alleged that MMI failed to provide a qualified American Sign Language interpreter to a deaf six-year-old requiring physical therapy, in violation of both Section 504 and Section 1557. The complaint was filed in 2017 and was the fifth complaint alleging that MMI failed to provide effective communication to individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing. OCR and MMI agreed to resolve the current matter to ensure that individuals seeking services from MMI who are deaf or hard of hearing receive effective communication to participate in the activities and services provided by MMI, in accordance with Section 504 and Section 1557.
MMI and OCR have agreed that MMI will take steps to improve and upgrade its review and assessment of sign language interpreters. In addition, MMI will provide staff training in effective communication and OCR will provide MMI with substantive technical assistance and feedback in response to reports MMI will be sending to OCR regarding its ongoing compliance activities.
“Our system of informed consent breaks down when medical facilities fail to communicate effectively with patients,” explained OCR Director Roger Severino. “Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act require health care providers to afford individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing an equal opportunity to benefit from health care services. That means providing auxiliary aids and services such as sign language interpreters.”
Collectively, Section 504 and Section 1557 prohibit discrimination based on disability and often require that health care facilities provide auxiliary aids and services in health programs or activities that receive HHS funding, such as nursing homes and hospitals.
More information on OCR resources, federal resource, and other organization resources related to effective communication with individuals with a disability can be found at: https://www.hhs.gov/civil-rights/for-individuals/special-topics/hospitals-effective-communication/disability-resources-effective-communication/index.html.
A copy of the voluntary resolution agreement is located at https://www.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/MMI-vra.pdf.
For additional information on OCR’s work on effective communication for persons who are deaf or hard of hearing, visit: https://www.hhs.gov/civil-rights/for-individuals/disability/effective-communication/index.html.
To learn more about Section 1557 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, visit https://www.hhs.gov/civil-rights/for-individuals/section-1557/index.html.
To learn more about non-discrimination and health information privacy laws, and to find information on filing a complaint, visit us at https://www.hhs.gov/ocr.
Follow OCR on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HHSOCR.
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Author: HHS Press Office