Saturday, July 31, 2010

Deaf patients sue Summit Medical, claim bias

Five people who are deaf are accusing HCA's Summit Medical Center in a lawsuit filed in Nashville federal court Friday of discrimination by denying them sign language interpreters.
A second suit filed by three of the five made similar claims against Summit Primary Care PLLC, a physicians practice that's not a part of the hospital, although its nine doctors admit patients there. One of those doctors discharged one of the plaintiffs from his care because that patient needed a sign language interpreter, according to the suit.

Specifically, the suit that a disability advocate filed on behalf of the plaintiffs against Summit Medical accuses the Hermitage hospital and its outpatient service provider of inconsistency in providing interpreters to deaf patients as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act. The defendants also failed consistently to provide qualified interpreters to the plaintiffs when they were family members of patients, it added.

"This practice is occurring across the state and a lot of professionals need to be aware that under the ADA, they have to provide effective communication (to people with disabilities)," said Sherry Wilds, a staff attorney at the Disability Law and Advocacy Center of Tennessee in Nashville. "For many patients who are deaf, that means a qualified sign language interpreter."

Jeff Whitehorn, Summit Medical's chief executive, said the hospital hadn't yet been served the complaint, but added that it provides services to patients with disabilities, including telephone assistance and interpreters from the League for the Deaf and Hearing Impaired.

"The health, safety and welfare of our patients is our utmost concern," Whitehorn said.

Hospital chain HCA and its local TriStar Health System subsidiary are co-defendants in that suit along with Summit Medical and its outpatient provider, Summit Medical Associates.

The suit against Summit Primary Care cited a Feb. 5 letter in which co-defendant Dr. Edward L. King indicated that he would dismiss co-plaintiff William Homer Amonett from his care within a month "due to the need to interact through an interpreter at (Amonett's) office visits." A call to the practice with offices two blocks east of the hospital wasn't returned.

Both suits request a court order to stop the alleged discrimination, for the defendants to offer at least two hours of mandatory training a year on ADA compliance and disability-related issues to their staff, and an award of plaintiffs' legal costs.

This week marked the 20th anniversary of the ADA.

Getahn Ward covers the business of health care for The Tennessean . He can be reached at 615-726-5968 or at

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