DOJ announces new health care accessibility initiative

From August 15 to October 7, 2004, James P. Miller was enrolled in a residential treatment program at the Ferndale, Michigan-based Kingwood Hospital, an inpatient psychiatric facility. As a man who is deaf whose sole method of communication is American Sign Language, Miller asked the hospital repeatedly to provide an interpreter.

Medical Sign Language Interpreter

The hospital failed to respond. In his nearly two months at the facility, Miller remained mute to the nurses, physicians and other individuals making major medical decisions on his behalf.

On behalf of Miller, the Department of Justice (DOJ) sued the hospital’s parent organizations, Henry Ford Health System, reaching a $70,000 settlement in February 2012 that requires it to undertake new training efforts to ensure the rights of people with disabilities are protected in its health care settings.

For the DOJ, Miller’s case is just one of many examples nationwide of hospitals violating the rights of people with disabilities by failing to provide reasonable accommodations. On July 26, the Department of Justice announced a new initiative, the Barrier Free Health Care Initiative, to expand its enforcement efforts into Americans with Disabilities Act violations within health care facilities.

The first phase of the plan will primarily focus on protecting people who are deaf or hard of hearing, to ensure that they are provided information about medical information in an accessible manner. However, the DOJ plans to expand to efforts to tackle a range of issues, including ensuring physical access to medical buildings.

“The Barrier-Free Health Care Initiative will make sure people with disabilities are…not discriminated against when it comes to receiving potentially life-saving medical information,” assistant attorney general Thomas Perez said in a news release.

More information on the DOJ’s recent health care accessibility settlements can be read here.