Trauma Center Agrees to Ensure Effective Communication with Deaf Individuals

Two complainants alleged UVMMC failed to provide appropriate auxiliary aids and services necessary for effective communication while they were receiving medical treatment. Both of the complainants are deaf and use American Sign Language as their primary means of communication.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights, the U.S. Department of Justice, and the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Vermont have reached an agreement with The University of Vermont Medical Center to ensure that the federally funded medical center provides communication services for deaf and hard of hearing patients, HHS announced Dec. 20.

UVMMC has agreed to enter into a Voluntary Resolution Agreement; the organization is an academic medical center that is part of a six-hospital network, serving Vermont and Northern New York, and it is a Level I Trauma Center that provides a full range of tertiary-level inpatient and outpatient services and primary care services at 10 Vermont locations. The UVMMC Campus, a regional, academic health care center and teaching hospital in alliance with the University of Vermont, is a 562-bed facility and includes most of UVMMC's inpatient services and an emergency department.

The HHS office initiated a compliance review with UVMMC under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act after the Justice Department received two complaints alleging violations of Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act and its implementing regulation. The two complainants alleged UVMMC failed to provide appropriate auxiliary aids and services necessary for effective communication while they were receiving medical treatment. Both of the complainants are deaf and use American Sign Language as their primary means of communication.

HHS noted that UVMMC receives HHS federal financial assistance and is required to provide appropriate auxiliary aids and services to persons with impaired sensory, manual, or speaking skills so that individuals have an equal opportunity to benefit from the services received. "If patients cannot communicate effectively with medical providers, their access to health care will suffer," said OCR Director Roger Severino. "The Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act ensure that persons who are deaf or hard of hearing are given equal access to health care, and this resolution shows that we are committed to enforcing this vital law."

The resolution agreement requires UVMMC to provide notice of the availability of auxiliary aids and services, implement grievance procedures and feedback protocols, provide training to UVMMC personnel, and update policies and procedures, and UVMMC has agreed to pay the complainants $20,500 in compensatory relief. The agreement is effective for three years, during which time OCR and the U.S. Attorney's Office will monitor UVMMC's compliance.

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