FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 8, 2011
Contact: HHS Press Office
East Texas Medical Center Regional Healthcare System to Ensure Effective Communication with Deaf or Hard of Hearing Patients
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has entered into a resolution agreement with the East Texas Medical Center Regional Healthcare System (ETMC) to ensure that deaf or hard of hearing patients receiving care will be screened and provided with sign language interpreter services when necessary for effective communication.
After investigating the complaint of a deaf patient who alleged she had not been provided a sign language interpreter while receiving prenatal care at ETMC Crocket Hospital, OCR issued a letter of concern to ETMC stating that deficiencies in their policies could result in the provision of auxiliary aids and services to deaf or hard of hearing patients and their companions in an arbitrary or inconsistent manner. Under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, recipients of federal financial assistance must provide auxiliary aids and services to individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing. These services include qualified sign language interpreters, note-takers, and text telephones (TTYs).
“The ability of people to effectively communicate with their health care professionals is an important first step for them to receive the care that they need,” said OCR Director Leon Rodriguez. “This resolution agreement provides a strong foundation for ETMC administrators and health care professionals to meet their legal obligation to provide effective communication to people who are deaf or hard of hearing.”
ETMC, which serves 300,000 patients annually, includes rural health clinics, rehabilitation facilities, home health care services, and 13 affiliate hospitals with a total of more than 1000 beds. The resolution agreement covers 71 ETMC facilities.
As a result of the resolution agreement, ETMC will assess each patient to determine whether auxiliary aids and services are necessary to ensure effective communication, install additional text telephones (TTYs), implement a Section 504 grievance procedure and new policies on nondiscrimination and the provision of auxiliary aids and services, appoint a Section 504 coordinator, and provide staff training.
This resolution agreement is a continuation of OCR’s ongoing efforts to ensure that providers are meeting their requirements under Section 504. A copy of the resolution agreement in this matter, 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 the requirements of federal civil rights laws. More information about the Effective Communication in Hospitals Initiative can be found at www.hhs.gov/ocr/civilrights/resources/specialtopics/hospitalcommunication/index.html.
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Last revised: December 8, 2011