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Settlement to make Stroger Hospital deaf friendly

Friday, December 23, 2005
Chicago Sun-Times
by RUMMANA HUSSAIN Staff Reporter

Stroger Hospital has begun to beef up its services for the deaf and hearing-impaired, making sign language interpreters readily available and placing text telephones throughout the Cook County facility, under a settlement agreement with the U.S. attorney's office.

The hospital moved to build upon existing programs for the hearing-impaired after the federal government began investigating its compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The investigation was sparked by a complaint filed against the hospital nearly three years ago by Chicagoan Haydee Garcia, who is deaf, according to the agreement announced Thursday.

Garcia and her deaf friend made repeated requests for a sign language interpreter as soon as Garcia was taken to Stroger Hospital's emergency room May 29, 2003, but she didn't get the service until six hours later, Assistant U.S. Attorney Joan Laser said.

The hospital has agreed to give Garcia, now a junior at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., $7,500 in damages.

New guidelines set

Dr. Nancy Becker, chairwoman of the hospital's language, speech and hearing department, called Garcia's experience "an exception."

"We had a lot of these programs already in place. We're just further strengthening the kinds of things we've been doing and reinforcing them [as part of the agreement]," she said.

Under the agreement, the hospital must call a sign language interpreter within 10 minutes of a patient's request and within one hour in at least 80 percent of all non-scheduled interpreter requests. Sign language interpreters must be available for all scheduled appointments.

The emergency room, patient rooms and all public telephone locations have been fitted with text telephones, and personnel are being trained on how to assist the deaf and hearing-impaired and answer any questions they may have on the available auxiliary aids, Stroger Hospital Chief Operating Officer Johnny Brown said.

Laser said many hospitals are in noncompliance with the ADA, and he hoped the settlement would send a message to them.

Must have correct TV remotes

Stroger Hospital violated the ADA by, among other things, failing to have informational and directional sign language in some parts of the building, and television remote controls that can activate close-captioning features in patient and waiting rooms, according to the U.S. attorney's office.

The government reached a similar agreement with Norwegian American Hospital in April.

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