Sunday, August 5, 2012

DOJ's New Healthcare Initiative

On the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) passed in 1990, the Department of Justice is targeting their enforcement efforts on a critical area for individuals with disabilities through their new “Barrier-Free Health Care Initiative”.

 U.S. Attorneys’ offices across the nation  are going to partner with the Department’s Civil Rights Division to target enforcement efforts and help individuals who are deaf or have hearing loss that have been denied effective communication as they access the nation’s healthcare system.

Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez speaking at the Justice Department on July 26th, explained that individuals who are deaf or who have hearing loss are at particular risk because medical professionals and facilities even today simply refuse to make sure that key medical information is provided in a manner and form that is understandable to them.

Recently, several actions have taken place. For example, the U.S Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan in partnership with the Disability Rights Section, recently entered into a large-scale settlement agreement with the Henry Ford Health System to ensure effective communication for people who are deaf or who have hearing loss to take place throughout their entire extensive system of hospitals and medical facilities.

Additionally, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Hampshire is continuing to achieve success in achieving compliance in New Hampshire hospitals when it filed a complaint and consent decree against a major hospital in Keene New Hampshire for its failure to provide effective communication and for its discriminatory decision to require a deaf patient’s hearing mother to serve as an interpreter for her daughter.

According to Perez, each participating U.S. Attorney’s Office will investigate, resolve, or litigate one or more cases on effective communication in healthcare in the next six months. This will enable the Department to focus resources on the fact that disability discrimination in healthcare is illegal and unacceptable.

Perez expects this action to be the first part of the multi-phase “Barrier Free Health Care Initiative”. Additional actions will involve providing access to medical equipment along with physical access to buildings and facilities. Thirty-five U.S. Attorneys Offices have already agreed to participate.