Grady settles complaint over handling of deaf patient in ER

Federal officials announced Tuesday that Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta has agreed to a settlement to resolve allegations that it violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by failing to ensure effective communication with individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing.

“When a deaf patient or caregiver is unable to understand what is happening during a medical visit or procedure, it can be a terrifying experience and adversely affect the quality of care,” said John Horn, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, in a statement. “I am encouraged that Grady has demonstrated an ongoing commitment to ensure that people who are deaf or hard of hearing have equal access to quality medical care.”

Horn’s office said it received a complaint alleging that Grady, a major safety-net hospital, failed to provide appropriate services in a situation involving an ER patient who was deaf and relied on American Sign Language as his primary means of communication.

John Horn
John Horn

The patient had fallen from a ladder, and alleged that he was in a lot of pain during a six-hour stay in Grady’s Emergency Care Center, federal officials said in a press release. The patient said he did not understand most of what was being communicated because he was not provided a sign language interpreter or other auxiliary aid or service.

Under the settlement, Grady has agreed to ensure effective communication to patients who are deaf or hard of hearing, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

Among other things, Grady has agreed to provide mandatory in-service training to all its Emergency Care Center personnel and provide reports to the U.S. Attorney’s Office regarding its compliance with the settlement agreement. The training will address the needs of deaf and hard-of-hearing patients and companions.

Grady also agreed to pay $5,000 to the patient, federal officials said.

Grady Health System issued a statement Tuesday saying that “we fully cooperated with the Department of Justice and are satisfied with the outcome.”

“Grady is committed to providing equal access to quality health care for all of our patients and has taken steps to assure that access, including the retraining of all Emergency Department staff on ADA requirements, and increasing the number of Video Remote Interpretative machines,” the Grady statement said. “Our goal is to continue to ensure effective communication for all patients seeking care at Grady.”

The ADA prohibits health care professionals from discriminating against individuals with disabilities.  Under the ADA, health care providers are required to provide effective communication to individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing.