August 26, 2022
Source: U.S. Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of Tennessee
The United States reached a settlement on August 19, 2022, with Covenant Health (Covenant). Covenant is a not-for-profit health care organization headquartered in Knoxville, Tennessee. Covenant operates nine hospitals in East Tennessee, including Parkwest Medical Center (PWMC). In a complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee, a complainant, who is deaf, alleged that he was denied effective communication under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) during emergency department visits and an in-patient hospital admission at PWMC.
The complainant alleged he went to Covenant facilities, including PWMC, after experiencing numbness and pain in his leg. The complainant alleged that the virtual interpreter services offered were ineffective and that no live interpreter services were provided to him despite repeated requests. The complainant alleged that he did not understand the reasons for his admissions, the treatment plan, or his discharge instructions. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Tennessee opened a civil investigation into these allegations under the ADA. Covenant and the United States have reached a settlement to resolve this investigation.
In resolving the investigation, Covenant agrees to implement measures and/or ensure compliance with existing measures aimed at protecting the rights of patients and companions who are deaf or hard of hearing at its hospitals. Those measures include: (1) designating an ADA administrator at each facility to provide oversight and guidance; (2) identifying services that can provide interpreters to each facility in a timely manner; (3) providing notice to patients and their companions of their rights under the ADA; (4) developing an assessment plan to effectively determine the appropriate auxiliary aid for each situation; (5) providing ADA training; and (6) submitting compliance reports to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The settlement agreement is effective for three years. In addition, Covenant will pay a statutory penalty to the United States in the amount of $50,000.
“The U.S. Attorney’s Office commends the complainant for sharing his experience to improve healthcare communication for other persons in the deaf community. Further, we commend Covenant Health and Parkwest Medical Center for cooperating in our investigation and working to promote effective communication with deaf individuals,” said U.S. Attorney Francis M. Hamilton III. “This agreement is a roadmap for success for public accommodations within East Tennessee that aim to improve the participation of deaf persons and other persons with hearing impairments in healthcare decisions.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Leah W. McClanahan represented the United States in the investigation.
Members of the public should be reminded that the claims settled by this agreement are allegations only and that there has been no determination of liability.