FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 22, 2009
Contact: HHS Press Office
Mid-Maryland Musculoskeletal Institute to Ensure Effective Communication with Persons Who Are Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing
HHS’ Office for Civil Rights and Mid-Maryland Musculoskeletal Institute Sign Voluntary Resolution Agreement
Under a voluntary resolution agreement reached with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), deaf or hard-of-hearing patients at the Mid-Maryland Musculoskeletal Institute (MMI) of Frederick, Md., will be screened and provided with sign language interpreters whenever interpreter services are necessary for effective communication. MMI is an 11-physician orthopedic practice with offices in Frederick and Hagerstown, Md., serving approximately 1,000 patients per month. It provides specialized treatment for a wide range of bone, muscle, and joint conditions, by physicians who have special training and expertise in ten subspecialty areas.
MMI voluntarily entered into a resolution agreement following an investigation by the Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) in response to three complaints alleging that MMI discriminated on the basis of disability when it failed to provide interpreter services that were necessary for deaf patients to communicate with MMI staff during their appointments. During appointments with these deaf patients, MMI relied on note-taking and lip-reading to communicate regarding patient symptoms, diagnosis, the purpose and use of prescribed medication, the administration of injections, the benefits and risks of surgery, the demonstration of home medical equipment, and post-operative care and discharge instructions.
Federal laws prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities, and require entities such as medical practices to ensure effective communication with persons who are deaf or hard-of-hearing. In its investigation, OCR identified a number of concerns with MMI’s policies and procedures for communicating with deaf or hard-of-hearing persons, which could result in ineffective communication between MMI physicians or staff and its deaf or hard-of-hearing patients in violation of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. After considering these compliance concerns in discussions and negotiations with OCR, MMI voluntarily agreed to take the steps necessary to ensure compliance with the Federal civil rights law.
“Approximately 28 million Americans have hearing loss. With an aging population, this number can only be expected to grow. It is critical that all health care providers, including medical practices, effectively communicate with persons who are deaf or hard-of-hearing,” said OCR Director Georgina Verdugo. “The nature, length, and importance of the communication at issue are just some of the factors that health care providers need to consider in determining whether to provide sign language interpreters for deaf patients and their companions, not only to comply with the law, but also to provide quality, safe health care to these patients.”
A copy of the Voluntary Resolution Agreement, along with more information about OCR’s civil rights enforcement activities, can be found at www.hhs.gov/ocr/civilrights/activities/agreements/.
OCR is partnering with the American Hospital Association and state hospital associations across the nation to raise awareness about requirements of the federal law. More information about the Effective Communication in Hospitals Initiative can be found at http://www.aha.org/aha/issues/Disparities/resources.html.
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Last revised: May 7, 2011