Portsmouth hospital settles over policies for deaf

Portsmouth Regional Hospital has agreed to pay $80,000, including a $20,000 fine, to the U.S. government, to settle a lawsuit alleging violations of the rights of deaf patients under the American with Disabilities Act. The settlement – the fifth of its kind in New Hampshire – is part of a nationwide effort by the federal government to force hospitals to provide timely sign language interpreters to deaf patients, but it was the first in the state to actually reach federal court. And it was the first time a New Hampshire hospital has had to cough up a fine on top of compensation for the deaf victims involved. According to the federal complaint, the hospital failed to provide an interpreter to two deaf people multiple times, despite a written policy to do so. Under the settlement – which still has to be approved by federal court – the hospital agreed to pay the Rosalie and Donald Valery a total of $50,000 and Brian Minch $10,000. It also agreed to revamp services to provide a live interpreter within an hour 80 percent of the time, and a video conference with an interpreter within 15 minutes. There are also a number of specific provisions in the settlement, including having a 24-hour disability coordinator, staff training requirements, data collection, complaint procedures, notification forms, TTY availability and advertising the availability of such services in the local newspaper. The hospital also agreed to pay a $20,000 civil penalty. In the last two years, the four other hospitals that compensated deaf victims for failing to provide sign language interpretations were: Concord Hospital ($100,000), Frisbee Memorial in Rochester ($35,000); St. Josephs ($10,000 in debt forgiveness) and Southern New Hampshire Regional Medical Center ($5,000), both in Nashua. Others are in the works. But none reached federal court, and none involved a civil penalty, said John J. Farley, an assistant U.S. attorney in New Hampshire. — BOB SANDERS/NEW HAMPSHIRE BUSINESS REVIEW

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