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HHS Office for Civil Rights Takes Action to Ensure Access to Care for Patients Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Office for Civil Rights (OCR) announced a settlement with Englewood Ear Nose and Throat (Englewood) to ensure effective communication and access to services for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing. Englewood provides otolaryngology services, including the medical and surgical management of problems related to the ear, nose, and throat, for adults and adolescents in New Jersey. The settlement was the result of OCR’s investigation of Englewood regarding allegations that it discriminated against people who are deaf and utilize American Sign Language as their primary means of communication. Federal civil rights laws prevent discrimination against people with disabilities, including for sign language interpretation and when a person requests a companion to aid in a visit.  Under the terms of the settlement, Englewood agrees to take several actions that ensure equal treatment of patients who are deaf or hard of hearing.

“Individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing should be able to schedule medical appointments and be seen by medical professionals just as easily as any other patient,” said OCR Director Melanie Fontes Rainer. “The law promises deaf and hard of hearing patients that they should receive care, free from discrimination, and have access to effective communication in appointments with their providers. Today’s agreement puts other health care providers and facilities on notice to prioritize the communication needs of their patients and follow the law.”

OCR entered into the agreement under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, which prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability. These laws specifically require health care providers to provide appropriate auxiliary aids and services to ensure that their communication with individuals with disabilities is as effective as their communication with others.

Under the terms of the agreement, the Office of Civil Rights will monitor Englewood for at least two years to ensure that it comes into compliance with the law. Among other actions, Englewood specifically agrees that it will:

  • Furnish appropriate auxiliary aids and services free of charge to ensure effective communication for those individuals who request them;
  • Revise its non-discrimination policies and procedures to clarify how individuals can obtain services;
  • Provide training to personnel and staff on federal civil rights laws and update training materials so that staff are aware of patients’ rights and the hospital’s obligation to provide appropriate services;
  • Display notification to the public, patients and Englewood personnel of the rights and protections civil rights laws afford regarding nondiscrimination in healthcare and human services; and
  • Report progress of compliance with the settlement agreement to OCR through a series of compliance reports.

A copy of the Voluntary Resolution Agreement may be found here: https://www.hhs.gov/civil-rights/for-providers/compliance-enforcement/agreements/englewood/index.html