Columbia St. Mary's in violation of ADA, failed to provide sign language interpreter for patient who is deaf

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Columbia St. Mary's Hospital in Milwaukee was found to be in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) after failing to provide sign language interpretative services to a patient who is deaf. 

Gregory Haanstad, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, announced May 22 the United States had settled the claim against the short-term acute care facility with approximately 400 staffed beds.

According to a news release from the U.S. Department of Justice, Title III of the ADA requires public accommodations to take those steps necessary to ensure that no individual with a disability is excluded, denied services, segregated, or otherwise treated differently because of the absence of appropriate auxiliary aids or services, unless the entity can demonstrate that taking such steps would fundamentally alter the nature of the services being offered or result in an undue burden. A public accommodation must also furnish appropriate auxiliary aids and services where necessary to ensure effective communication with individuals with disabilities and with companions of patients who are individuals with disabilities.

The government's investigation determined in December of 2017, Columbia St. Mary's did not provide a patient a qualified ASL interpreter following surgery, including during critical phases of her recovery period. In addition, the investigation determined no interpreter was provided during the patient's discharge consultation. Rather, authorities say staff relied on the patient's mother to attempt to communicate.

The U.S. Department of Justice says the patient was re-admitted to Columbia St. Mary's after experiencing complications from the surgery, including an infection of her surgical site. During her second hospital stay, investigators say the hospital again failed to provide a qualified interpreter and staff relied on the patient's mother to communicate. 

As a result, officials say the patient did not fully understand the nature of the care and medical decisions being made for her. 

Based on the findings, the United States determined Columbia St. Mary's Hospital denied appropriate auxiliary aids and services necessary for effective communication during treatment. 

Under the settlement agreement, Columbia St. Mary's will pay $35,000 to the patient. In addition, the hospital has conducted and will conduct additional training on the ADA, and the hospital agreed to report any future complaints of possible ADA violations to federal authorities. 

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