Contact: HHS Office of Civil Rights
October 23, 2015
Three Puerto Rico Hospitals Enter Agreement with HHS OCR to Ensure Patient Access Auxiliary Aids and Services
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has entered into a Voluntary Resolution Agreement with the Doctors’ Center Hospital San Juan, Inc., the Doctors’ Center Hospital Bayamón, Inc. and the Doctors’ Center Hospital, Inc., to ensure appropriate auxiliary aids and services are provided to persons who are deaf and hard of hearing.
The Agreement resolves a complaint filed by an individual alleging discrimination when denied an appropriate auxiliary aid (sign language interpreter) necessary to ensure effective communication during their 10 month old child’s five day hospitalization with the Doctors’ Center Hospital San Juan, Inc. OCR investigated the complaint under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which prohibits covered entities that receive Federal financial assistance from excluding or denying individuals with disabilities an equal opportunity to receive program benefits and services. At Doctors’ Center Hospitals’ request, this Agreement includes all of its facilities in Puerto Rico, which are separate corporations under one ownership which serve the entire metropolitan San Juan area as well as the northern part of the island. Jointly, the hospitals provide health care services to approximately 109,000 patients a year.
OCR is responsible for enforcing Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 1557 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA). Together, these Federal laws require hospitals, health care providers, clinics, medical practices and other entities who receive Federal financial assistance to provide services to persons with disabilities in a non-discriminatory manner. The services or aids that must be provided to ensure effective communication will depend on the abilities of the individual who is deaf or hard of hearing, the primary method used by the individual to communicate and the complexity and nature of the information being conveyed. Failure to ensure effective communication in such health care settings may lead to misinformation, inappropriate diagnosis and/or delayed or improper medical treatments.
Under this Agreement, Doctors’ Center Hospital agreed to take several actions to improve access to appropriate communication services for deaf and hard of hearing individuals including revising its policies and procedures, performing an assessment of the communication needs for deaf and hard of hearing patients and their companions, providing appropriate auxiliary aids and services at no cost, adopting and posting a Notice of Nondiscrimination, creating a Section 504 Grievance Procedure, appointing a Section 504 Coordinator and training all staff on the revised policies and procedures.
Today’s announcement follows on the heels of a joint letter issued to hospital administrators by OCR and the Puerto Rico Hospital Association in June 2015 to increase awareness of the requirement to provide auxiliary aids and services to ensure effective communication with deaf and hard of hearing individuals and their companions. To read the full joint letter to Puerto Rico Hospital Administrators, click here.
For additional information on communicating with deaf and hard of hearing individuals in health care settings, please see the following resources:
To read the full Agreement text, click here.
To learn more about non-discrimination and health information privacy laws and your civil rights and privacy rights in health care and human service settings, as well as find information on filing a complaint, visit us at www.hhs.gov/ocr.