Englewood ENT Settles with HHS to Improve Accessibility for Deaf Patients

US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has reached a settlement with Englewood Ear Nose and Throat (Englewood), ensuring better communication and access to services for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing. Englewood provides specialized medical and surgical care for ear, nose, and throat issues for both adults and adolescents in New Jersey.

The settlement follows an OCR investigation into allegations that Englewood discriminated against people who are deaf, particularly those who use American Sign Language (ASL) as their primary means of communication. Federal civil rights laws mandate that healthcare providers must not discriminate against individuals with disabilities, including providing necessary sign language interpretation services.

“Individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing should be able to schedule medical appointments and be seen by medical professionals just as easily as any other patient,” said OCR Director Melanie Fontes Rainer. “The law promises deaf and hard of hearing patients that they should receive care, free from discrimination, and have access to effective communication in appointments with their providers. Today’s agreement puts other health care providers and facilities on notice to prioritize the communication needs of their patients and follow the law.”

Key Terms of the Settlement

Under the agreement, Englewood commits to several actions to ensure equal treatment of patients who are deaf or hard of hearing:

  1. Auxiliary Aids and Services: Englewood will provide appropriate auxiliary aids and services at no cost to ensure effective communication for those who request them. This includes providing qualified interpreters and other necessary tools to facilitate communication.
  2. Policy Revisions: Englewood will update its non-discrimination policies and procedures. These revisions will clarify how individuals can obtain services and ensure that patients understand their rights.
  3. Staff Training: Englewood will train its personnel on federal civil rights laws. Training materials will be updated to ensure staff are aware of patients’ rights and the hospital’s obligations to provide appropriate services.
  4. Public Notification: Notices about patients’ rights and the protections afforded by civil rights laws will be displayed prominently. This applies to public areas, patient information materials, and within the organization itself.
  5. Compliance Reporting: Englewood will report its compliance progress to OCR through a series of detailed reports. OCR will monitor Englewood for at least two years to ensure adherence to the agreement.
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Why This Matters
  1. Equality in Healthcare: This settlement is a significant step toward ensuring that all individuals, regardless of their auditory abilities, receive equal access to healthcare services. Effective communication is crucial for accurate diagnosis, treatment, and overall patient care.
  2. Legal Compliance: The agreement highlights the importance of adhering to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act. These laws require healthcare providers to offer auxiliary aids and services to ensure effective communication for individuals with disabilities.
  3. Systemic Change: By holding healthcare providers accountable, such settlements drive systemic changes that benefit not only the specific patients involved but also set a precedent for other institutions. It sends a clear message that discrimination in healthcare will not be tolerated.
Broader Implications
  1. Awareness and Education: Increased awareness of these legal requirements among healthcare providers can lead to more widespread compliance. Training and policy revisions play a crucial role in educating staff about the needs and rights of patients with disabilities.
  2. Community Impact: Improved access to healthcare for deaf and hard of hearing individuals can lead to better health outcomes. When patients can communicate effectively with their healthcare providers, they are more likely to receive timely and appropriate care.
  3. Future Monitoring: The monitoring period ensures that Englewood adheres to the agreed-upon terms. This oversight is essential to sustain long-term changes and prevent future discriminatory practices.
Advancing Healthcare Access

The settlement between HHS and Englewood Ear Nose and Throat marks an important advancement in ensuring equitable healthcare access for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing. By committing to provide necessary communication aids and revising their policies, Englewood sets an example for other healthcare providers. This move not only fulfills legal requirements but also promotes a more inclusive and fair healthcare system for all.

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