HHS Office for Civil Rights Takes Action to Ensure Effective Communication for Those Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has entered into a Voluntary Resolution Agreement with CHI St. Vincent Hot Springs to ensure effective communication with individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504) and Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act of 2010 (Section 1557). CHI St. Vincent Hot Springs is a faith-based, not-for-profit hospital, with more than 280 licensed beds, serving the health care needs of Hot Springs, Ark., and surrounding communities.

As a part of this administration’s accessibility and inclusion efforts, and in response to President Joe Biden’s recent Executive Orders (EOs), as well as similar obligations under the HHS Equity Action Plan, OCR is working to ensure that all people have meaningful access to health and human services programs and activities. OCR is committed to guaranteeing that health and human services is more inclusive, equitable, and accessible for all, including those with disabilities and their families.

The Agreement resolves a complaint filed with OCR by an individual, alleging that CHI St. Vincent Hot Springs discriminated against her on the basis of her disabilities when it failed to provide her with appropriate auxiliary aids to ensure effective communication during her visit to the Emergency Department on September 1, 2019, in violation of Section 504 and Section 1557. Collectively, Section 504 and Section 1557 prohibit any entity that receives federal financial assistance from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities and requires an entity to take steps to ensure communication with individuals with disabilities is as effective as communication with others through the use of appropriate auxiliary aids and services.

“Effective communication is particularly critical in health care settings where miscommunication may lead to misdiagnosis and improper or delayed medical treatment,” said OCR Director Melanie Fontes Rainer. “Providers must understand their obligations under law and have in place protocols to ensure that staff know how to obtain interpreter services and other communication aids and services when needed by persons who are deaf or hard of hearing.”

As a result of the investigation, CHI St. Vincent Hot Springs voluntarily entered into an agreement and affirmed that it will comply with all provisions of Section 504 and Section 1557. The Voluntary Resolution Agreement may be found here: https://www.hhs.gov/civil-rights/for-providers/compliance-enforcement/agreements/vra-chi-st-vincent/index.html

OCR has resources available to hospitals and health care providers to help ensure effective communication with their patients, including:

If you believe that you or someone else has been discriminated against because of your race, color, national origin, disability, age, sex, or religion in programs or activities that HHS directly operates or to which HHS provides federal financial assistance, you may file a complaint with the HHS Office for Civil Rights at: https://www.hhs.gov/civil-rights/filing-a-complaint/index.html.

Originally published at https://www.hhs.gov/about/news/2022/11/09/hhs-office-for-civil-rights-takes-action-to-ensure-effective-communication-for-those-who-are-deaf-or-hard-of-hearing.html

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