Nashua hospital settles ADA complaint

Lacked interpreter for deaf patient

By Holly Ramer
Associated Press / July 23, 2010

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CONCORD, N.H. — Southern New Hampshire Medical Center has agreed to set up new services for deaf and hearing-impaired patients as part of a settlement announced yesterday with a patient who complained the Nashua hospital violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The patient, Kenton Hermans, filed a complaint with the US attorney’s office after seeking treatment at the hospital in May 2008. Hermans, who communicates using American Sign Language, said the hospital discriminated against him by failing to provide an interpreter and by trying to persuade his companion to act as an interpreter even though she was not qualified.

Under the settlement, the hospital agreed to pay Hermans $5,000 and set up a program to ensure deaf and hard-of-hearing patients get the help they need. That will include appointing an administrator to provide assistance, purchasing equipment that can be used by deaf patients and training staff.

The hospital, which cooperated with the investigation, did not admit any liability. Assistant US Attorney John Farley, who handled the case, said there was no allegation that Hermans was harmed, rather he was not able to fully understand what was taking place during his hospital visit.

“There’s no suggestion of any improper care in this case, but as a general matter, I think there are probably few areas of life where precise and effective communication would be more important than when you’re getting health treatment,’’ he said. “What the ADA requires is effective communication, that an individual who is deaf has to be able to have the same level of communication with their doctor or health care provider as someone who is not deaf.’’

Dr. Stephanie Wolf-Rosenblum, the hospital’s chief medical officer, said the hospital has a “robust set of tools’’ and procedures for ensuring effective communication with patients, but it welcomes the chance for improvement.

“No patient should ever come to or leave Southern New Hampshire Medical Center feeling like they weren’t able to effectively communicate with their health care team,’’ she said. “We absolutely had things in place which I hope would meet patient needs, but an opportunity for improvement has been identified and we’re completely committed to taking this opportunity to enhance our processes.’’

Hermans could not be reached for comment yesterday.

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