Franciscan St. James Health in Illinois has become the 25th provider organization over the past three years to settle with the government as part of a crackdown on providers accused of denying people with disabilities equal access to medical care.
The settlement came Wednesday as part of the U.S. Justice Department's Barrier-Free Health Care Initiative, which aims to make sure people with disabilities, including those with hearing and mobility issues as well as those who have HIV, have equal access to medical services. The initiative involves a partnership between Justice's Civil Rights Division and U.S. attorneys' offices across the country.
The St. James Health settlement is the fourth agreement reached under the initiative since the beginning of October. St. James Health is a subsystem of the Franciscan Alliance system, based in Mishawaka, Ind.
Since October, the Justice Department also has settled with a doctor and Primary Care of the Treasure Coast, in Vero Beach, Fla.; Associated Foot & Ankle Centers of Northern Virginia; and Swedish Edmonds (Wash.) hospital.
Those settlements all also involved allegations that appropriate interpretation was not provided to patients or parents of patients with hearing impairments. None of the three entities admitted to any wrongdoing or liability, according to the settlement agreements.
Franciscan St. James Health, which has two hospitals in the Illinois suburbs of Chicago, agreed to pay $70,000 to settle allegations that a deaf patient wasn't allowed a sign language interpreter during her four-day hospital stay, according to the Justice Department. '
Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act requires providers to ensure they communicate as effectively with those with hearing disabilities as they do with those who don't have disabilities.
St. James disputes the Justice Department's findings but agreed it would be best to resolve the matter “expeditiously and without protracted litigation,” according to the settlement agreement. Attempts to reach Franciscan St. James Health for further comment were unsuccessful.
The Justice Department offers publications to help providers comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, including a brief on Communicating with People Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing in Hospital Settings at ada.gov/hospcombr.htm.
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