Deaf Couple Sues Hospital After Birth

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (CN) – A deaf couple claims a hospital refused to provide a sign language interpreter for them when their baby was born in need of life-saving surgery. The couple claims that Inova Health System, which reported $2 trillion in operating revenue in 2009, violated a court order requiring it to have interpreters.




     Maribel and Stephen Heisley claim that doctors at Inova Fairfax Hospital had to use “rudimentary drawings and written notes” to explain that their baby would die without surgery.
     The Heisleys say they repeatedly requested an interpreter, but were provided one only for a few hours at a time, and that hospital staff refused to allow a sign language-fluent relative to help.
     They say their baby went through open-heart surgery, had a paralyzed diaphragm and remained in critical condition, and doctors continued in futile attempts to communicate with them without an interpreter.
     “Communication with the doctors was so difficult without a sign language interpreter that the only conversations Ms. Heisley had on her own with the doctors for the next several days was limited to them answering ‘yes or no’ in response to her questions whether [the baby] was alive,” they claim.
     “Defendant is aware of its legal obligations under the ADA,” according to the complaint. “In 2007 Defendant entered into a Settlement Agreement with the United States Department of Justice that requires the Hospital to, among other things, provide appropriate auxiliary aids and services, including qualified sign language interpreters, when necessary for effective communication. (The Settlement Agreement is attached hereto as Exhibit A). This Settlement Agreement resulted from prior instances the Hospital failed to provide effective communication for the hearing impaired and was in effect at the time of Plaintiffs’ son’s birth and subsequent emergency room visits.”
     The Heisleys seek an injunction and damages for disability discrimination.
     They are represented by Caroline Crenshaw with Sutherland Asbill & Brennan of Washington, D.C.

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