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DOJ, Inova Settle ADA Lawsuit

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media, March 30, 2011

Inova Health System has reached a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice. Under the agreement, Inova would pay aggrieved former patients at its Fairfax, VA hospital $120,000, another $25,000 in civil penalties, and bolster training to hospital staff on the requirements of the Americans With Disabilities Act and related laws.

The settlement resolves a federal complaint that the health system failed to provide sign language interpreters to a hearing impaired pregnant woman and other deaf people, the Department of Justice announced this week.

The consent decree, which must be approved by a federal judge, also requires Inova to adopt specific policies and procedures to ensure that auxiliary aids and services are promptly provided to patients or companions who are deaf or hard of hearing.

The DOJ lawsuit, filed this week with a consent decree in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, alleged that because the hospital failed to provide sign language services, deaf patients were denied effective communication with hospital staff, the opportunity to participate in medical treatment decisions, and the full benefit of healthcare services provided by Inova Fairfax Hospital.

"This settlement shows that Inova and the government share the same goal – making sure that deaf and hard of hearing patients can communicate with their doctors, especially at critical moments in their medical care," said Neil H. MacBride, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.

The ADA requires doctors, hospitals and other healthcare providers to provide equal access to patients and companions who are deaf or hard of hearing. When medical services involve important, lengthy or complex oral communications with patients or companions, hospitals are generally required to provide qualified sign language interpreters and other auxiliary aids, free of charge, to individuals who are deaf, are hard of hearing or have speech disabilities.

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