February 18, 2005

Lawsuit forces hospitals to hear complaints by deaf patients

Seven deaf patients are filing suit against Laurel Regional Hospital in the D.C. area, claiming that the hospital failed to provide adequate means of communication for them during their visits.

The suit attacks the hospitals use of Video Remote Interpreting (VRI) technology which is used as a replacement for a live, on site interpreter for the hearing impaired. The VRI technology acts like a video conference, connecting the patients to a remote location where they can communicate via TV with an interpreter. The plaintiff's assert that they have a right to live, on site interpreter.

The plaintiffs were forced to try and use the VRI devices to communicate with their doctors about their ailments. They claim that the VRI device was an inadequate means of communication, and was often difficult if not impossible to use because of their conditions.

Elaine Gardner, co-counsel on the suit for the plaintiffs, states that "basically, it doesn't work well for people who are really sick, can't focus well enough, or can't get positioned correctly."

The plaintiffs in the suit include patients who were allowed to go home from the hospital despite being afflicted with ailments ranging from meningitis to congestive heart failure.

The suit attacks the hospitals use of the technology under the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), which requires that hospitals provide "effective means of communication for patients, family members, and hospital visitors who are deaf or hard of hearing." Apparently, the

How will this suit affect nursing homes and other providers?

If the plaintiffs prevail in this case, this could set a terribly expensive precedent for providers.