University of Vermont Medical Center Settles Deaf Access Cases

November 29, 2017

Patients who are Deaf or hard of hearing will receive better services at the University of Vermont Medical Center (UVMMC) because of settlements reached with Vermont Legal Aid, the Vermont Human Rights Commission, and the U.S. Department of Justice. The agreements settle multiple cases brought by Vermont Legal Aid at the Vermont Human Rights Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice for UVMMC’s failure to provide adequate Deaf interpretation services to patients and family members at the hospital.

The cases were brought by Vermont Legal Aid because UVMMC had not provided adequate sign language interpretation services in multiple cases over the past four years. “Credit goes to our clients for demanding their rights to equal access in order to make positive change for all Deaf patients,” said Barbara Prine, Staff Attorney with the Disability Law Project of Vermont Legal Aid. “We also thank UVMMC for agreeing to robust improvements in its system for Deaf access.

Under the global settlement agreements, UVMMC must improve policies on Deaf access, train staff on how to provide accommodations, and set standards for working with in-person and remote interpretation. The agreement also includes grievance procedures. The Vermont Human Rights Commission will monitor compliance with the settlement agreement over the next two and a half years.

“This comprehensive agreement covers best practices for serving individuals who are Deaf or hard of hearing in hospital settings and also provides for an extended period of monitoring to ensure that these much needed changes are effectuated,” said Karen Richards, Executive Director of the Human Rights Commission.  “The HRC appreciates the UVMMC’s cooperation in reaching a settlement that will improve services to their Deaf and hard of hearing patients and family members.”

 “We strive to provide all of our patients with the highest quality of care, but unfortunately we did not meet that goal in these cases,” said Eileen Whalen, RN, MHA, president and chief operating officer of the University of Vermont Medical Center.  “We have taken many steps to strengthen our interpreter services including hiring an Interpreter Services Coordinator, educating staff on the resources we have and how to use them, and upgrading our remote interpretation technology.   We’ll continue to seek out opportunities to strengthen our services and policies regarding the treatment of Deaf patients, and maintain the involvement of our patient and family advisors who have provided valuable guidance in this area.”

“I’m glad that Deaf patients stood up together for our rights. I’m also glad that the hospital has agreed to improve its policies and procedures so that the Deaf community will have equal access to medical treatment,” said George Lareau, one of the complainants.