Accessible Healthcare Legal Advocacy
The following cases illustrate how legal advocacy can improve access to healthcare for people with disabilities. If you are aware of a case that should be included, please notify us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Equal Rights Center, et al. v. Washington Hospital Center
On November 2, 2005, the Disability Rights Project of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs and the law firm of Howrey LLP announced a landmark settlement with largest private hospital in the nation’s capital, Washington Hospital Center, on behalf of four former patients of Washington Hospital Center (WHC) and the Equal Rights Center (ERC). This settlement addresses access to hospital facilities and equipment for patients with mobility impairments and other disabilities. Under the settlement, WHC will create and improve accessible patient rooms, remove barriers throughout the hospital, procure accessible exam tables for every department that uses exam tables (after the date of the agreement, all new exam tables and chairs purchased by WHC will be accessible), survey all equipment and purchase accessible equipment where needed, review and revise its polices, implement special procedures for patients with spinal cord injuries, and provide training to its staff to ensure implementation and use of its new policies and equipment.
Gillespie, et al. v. Laurel Regional Hospital
In July, 2006, the Disability Rights Project of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs and Sutherland Asbill & Brennan LLP, together with the U.S. Department of Justice, negotiated a landmark Consent Decree on behalf of seven deaf individuals with Laurel Regional Hospital. The individuals had alleged in their Complaint that despite their specific and repeated requests for in-person qualified Sign Language interpreter services at Laurel Hospital, these requests were denied and plaintiffs were forced to communicate through cryptic notes, lip-reading, or inadequate video interpreting, or were provided with no communication at all in critical medical situations. Of particular import in this case were the allegations of inadequate video interpreting services (VIS). These services, which are becoming more frequently used in medical and other settings, provide an off-site interpreter through video conference technology over high speed internet lines. Although extremely useful in some situations, it is critical that these services be monitored in hospital settings to ensure that they meet certain performance standards and are not used with patients who have certain medical conditions or injuries compromising their ability to see the video screen or be seen by the video camera. The Consent Decree is the first ADA case resolution to include criteria for VIS. The Decree requires a communication assessment of each patient, provision of appropriate auxiliary aids and services, including where appropriate use of Laurel’s new, DOJ-approved VIS equipment, new policies outlining situations in which VIS is not appropriate, provision of special television equipment and telephones for deaf patients, notice to patients of their rights under the Decree, and training of staff as to its provisions.
Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital
The Boston Center for Independent Living and several individuals with physical disabilities, represented by Greater Boston20Legal Services and Disability Rights Advocates, signed legal agreements in June 2009 with Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital to remove health care accessibility barriers. Each hospital will survey their facilities for compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and Massachusetts state accessibility laws in the areas of architecture, medical equipment, policies, procedures and training. In collaboration with BCIL, individuals with disabilities and accessibility experts, the hospitals will develop plans to address identified barriers and to provide equal access to health care services for individuals with mobility or sensory disabilities. These agreements were reached after a year of negotiations, without filing a lawsuit, in response to concerns raised by BCIL and people with disabilities who had difficulty accessing care at the hospitals.
Metzler v. Kaiser Permanente
Disability Rights Advocates (DRA) and co-counsel, John Burris, filed suit against Kaiser Permanente, California’s largest HMO, alleging that Kaiser had neglected the medical needs of people with disabilities. The lawsuit was the first of its kind in the country. In March of 2001, DRA settled the lawsuit with a creative and landmark settlement which requires Kaiser to remedy a range of access barriers present in Kaiser facilities throughout the state, including architectural barriers, inaccessible medical equipment, and Kaiser policies and procedures that create access barriers for patients with disabilities.
The comprehensive settlement agreement and subsequent plan developed by the parties to review and reform Kaiser’s facilities and policies provide a model for the healthcare industry as a whole.
Olson v. Sutter Health, et al.
Disability Rights Advocates and Goldstein, Demchak, Baller, Borgen & Dardarian reached a comprehensive, landmark settlement in the disability rights class action entitled Olson, et al. v. Sutter Health, et al., Case No. RG06-302354, Superior Court of Alameda County, California on behalf of a class of persons with mobility, visual, speech and hearing disabilities. The Court granted final approval to the settlement on July 11, 2008.
Under the settlement, Sutter will do the following:
- Survey every Sutter healthcare facility in California for architectural barriers to access for persons with mobility impairments (such as inadequate parking facilities, blocked paths of travel, and inaccessible restrooms, patient rooms, exam rooms, waiting areas, laboratories, and pharmacies) and make architectural improvements to remove each of those barriers within ten years of the date of the Settlement Agreement;
- Further develop and implement policies and procedures to improve the delivery of healthcare services to persons with physical disabilities. This includes ensuring that staff are trained, that people with visual and hearing impairments receive effective communication, that people with mobility disabilities are assigned to accessible rooms, and that people with disabilities may be accompanied by their service animals; and
- Develop plans for purchasing and installing medical equipment designed to accommodate patients with disabilities, such as accessible exam chairs, tables, diagnostic equipment, lift equipment, and weight scales.
University of California Medical Center (UCSF)
In 2008 the UCSF Medical Center in San Francisco signed a comprehensive settlement agreement to improve access to facilities, services, programs and information for persons with disabilities. Linda Dardarian, a partner with Goldstein, Demchak, Baller, Borgen & Dardarian, and Berkeley disability rights lawyer Lainey Feingold negotiated the agreement using Structured Negotiations on behalf of San Francisco disability rights activist August Longo.
In this agreement, UCSF Medical Center agreed to undertake a comprehensive program to evaluate Medical Center programs, policies, services and facilities and improve accessibility for persons with disabilities where necessary. Among other things, UCSF agreed to modify in-patient bathrooms to make them accessible to patients who use wheelchairs, and to conduct an extensive review of policies and procedures affecting people with disabilities, making enhancements where needed. UCSF is also evaluating the availability of accessible medical equipment in UCSF patient care facilities, and purchasing and installing accessible medical equipment where necessary. UCSF is also updating its patient registration systems, and policies for effectively communicating with patients and visitors with disabilities.