|TRENTON – Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman and the Division on Civil Rights announced today that, as part of a settlement resolving disability discrimination allegations, a privately-run South Jersey nursing and rehabilitation facility has agreed to provide a certified sign-language interpreter for deaf and hard of hearing residents who request it.
The Medford Care Center’s agreement to “engage in an interactive process” with deaf or hard of hearing patients, and to provide those who prefer it a certified sign language interpreter for communications related to their cases, is part of a settlement resolving allegations brought by the family of a deaf patient, Mary Jane Barton, in 2012.
The family of Barton filed a complaint with the Division on Civil Rights in September 2012 alleging that Medford Care Center failed to accommodate the deaf woman’s disability by continually denying her the services of a sign-language interpreter during a six-month stay.
The family acknowledged that Medford Care provided Barton a sign-language interpreter for two conferences with physicians, but alleged that all other communications – including discussions about Barton’s condition and symptoms -- were either conducted through her son, or via written notes and lip reading. On several occasions, the family alleged, Barton was not aware beforehand about certain medical procedures that were going to be performed on her because of the lack of adequate communication.
“Patients who are deaf or hard of hearing must be able to comfortably, and effectively, communicate with their care givers,” said Acting Attorney General Hoffman. “This settlement is important because it ensures, going forward, that Medford Care will engage in an interactive process with deaf and hard of hearing patients, and that those whose communication needs are best served through use of a sign-language interpreter will be accommodated. Let this case serve as a reminder to other health care facilities that they have the same duty to provide effective communication under the law.”
Division on Civil Rights Director Craig T. Sashihara noted that accommodating a deaf patient’s preferred form of communication is particularly critical where conversations involving the patient’s symptoms, diagnosis and treatment are concerned.
“According to the New Jersey Division of Disabilities, there are approximately 850,000 New Jersey residents—roughly 10 percent of our population—who have varying degrees of hearing loss,” said Sashihara. ”That number includes persons who were born deaf like Ms. Barton, others who developed late-stage hearing loss, and an increasing number of teenagers and young adults. It’s a growing societal problem that unnecessarily alienates good people and adversely affects their quality of life by needlessly creating communication barriers.”
Under terms of the settlement, Medford Care Center agrees to formally incorporate into its disability policy a protocol for accommodating the deaf and hard of hearing with a certified sign language interpreter. Medford Care also has agreed to train all of its personnel regarding the policy.
Deputy Attorney General Charles Cohen, assigned to the Division of Law’s Civil Rights Section, and Division on Civil Rights Investigator Marian Bland, handled the Medford Care Center matter on behalf of the State.