DOJ and UW Medical Center - Northwest resolve allegations the medical center violated the Americans with Disabilities Act in caring for patients who are deaf

Saturday, July 15, 2023

Photo courtesy Liberty University which offers a BA in American Sign Language and Interpreting

Seattle – University of Washington Medical Center – Northwest (UWMC-NW) will reform its policies and procedures for providing sign-language interpreters, and other assistive devices for patients who are deaf or hard of hearing following a complaint from a patient that such services were not provided during a hospitalization in 2021. 

UWMC-NW will pay the patient $40,000 in addition to the changes in training, policies, and procedures.

“Ensuring effective communication in medical settings has been a top priority in our civil rights work,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Gorman. 
“Before and after surgery, a patient must be able to understand the medical staff and communicate their level of pain, their concerns, and any questions they have about ongoing care. This settlement clearly lays out the steps for UWMC-NW to comply with the ADA and provide best practices for their patients.”

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) mandates that public entities, including healthcare providers, provide auxiliary aids and services free of charge to patients who need them in order to communicate effectively. 

An investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Western District of Washington, determined that UWMC-NW failed to provide the complainant with a qualified sign language interpreter necessary to communicate effectively with her on several occasions during her hospital stay in April 2021 including pre-surgical consultation, surgery, and post-surgical care. 

The hospital did attempt to use a Video Relay Interpreter (VRI) service, but it was ineffective.

The settlement requires the hospital to make a number of changes including:
  • UWMC-NW will have a designated ADA Coordinator on duty at all times that the hospital is open to the public. That person will coordinate services and assistive devices for patients who are deaf, deaf-blind, or hard of hearing.
  • The UWMC-NW will enter into contracts with three interpreter services so that they are able to obtain an interpreter in a reasonable period of time.
  • Video Remote Interpreting will be used only if it meets certain guidelines, and will not be used for certain complex or lengthy appointments where in-person interpretation is critical.
  • All staff will be trained on the new procedures including the initial evaluation of whether a patient needs assistive services for communication.
  • The hospital will log the use of assistive devices and services and provide that log to the U.S. Attorney’s Office every six months for review. The hospital will also provide any complaints regarding provision of assistive services.
The review by the U.S. Attorney’s Office will continue for the next three years. If the U.S. Attorney’s Office believes the terms of this settlement have been violated it can file suit in U.S. District Court.

The investigation and settlement were negotiated by Assistant United States Attorney Matt Waldrop.


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