Fairview Health Services Agrees to Settlement in Discrimination Lawsuit by Deaf Couple & State of Minnesota

Fairview Health Services…

Today, Julie and Matthew Svatos and the Department of Human Rights agreed to settle their lawsuit against Fairview Health Services for deaf discrimination against its patient Julie and her husband Matthew Svatos. The State of Minnesota, Department of Human Rights along with the Svatoses, represented by Gilbert Law, filed suit last year against Fairview’s Hibbing Hospital because its staff failed to provide adequate sign language interpreters to communicate with the Svatoses when they sought medical care for the birth of their firstborn child.

After the Svatos child was born, Fairview left Mr. Svatos, without any effective means of communicating with the doctors and healthcare providers who were caring for his wife and newborn daughter over a three-day period. The Svatoses’ child was born with medical complications and underwent several tests and examinations when it was 1-day old, which Mr. Svatos was unable to access. Despite repeated requests for an interpreter, Fairview repeatedly failed to provide an interpreter, and instead tried to use Mrs. Svatos, who was still recovering from giving birth, to facilitate all communication for her husband. Mr. Svatos was unable to effectively communicate with Fairview’s medical staff and could not fully participate in the testing conducted on their newborn, information about the results from the doctors, and all of the other communications by nurses and specialists caring for his wife and newborn.

After many months of litigation and negotiations with Fairview, this case has now been resolved. In addition to a confidential monetary payment to the Svatoses, Fairview has agreed to implement several improvements to its policies and procedures for deaf and hard of hearing patients and companions, including the following:

  1. Fairview will revise its Interpreter Services policy to provide on-site, qualified sign language interpreters to deaf patients and/or deaf companions.
  2. Fairview will only rely on Video Relay Interpreting (“VRI”) technology until an on-site, qualified sign language interpreter arrives.
  3. Fairview will conduct annual training regarding the provision of auxiliary services, such as Video Relay Interpreting (“VRI”), for all employees who are responsible for providing VRI.
  4. Fairview will provide training on Interpreter Services and auxiliary aids as part of its new employee orientation for all hospital-based nursing staff.
  5. Fairview will add to the annual Required Learning training that providing auxiliary services also extends to companions of patients, not just the patients themselves.
  6. Fairview will provide bi-annual reports to the Minnesota Department of Human Rights twice a year regarding its provision of auxiliary aids and services to deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals.

Fairview’s agreement to modify and implement these changes to its policies and procedures as part of this settlement agreement will also apply to any hospitals that Fairview will acquire through its impending merger with HealthEast in the near future.

The monetary payment that Fairview paid to the Svatoses as part of its settlement of this lawsuit is confidential.

Federal and state law require all places of public accommodations, such as hospitals like Fairview, to provide and ensure effective communication with individuals who are deaf and hard of hearing using American Sign Language interpreters. Failing to do so is discrimination based on disability.

The Svatoses’ lawsuit was one of three deaf discrimination cases against Fairview Health Services over the past two years. In 2004, Fairview entered into a public consent decree with the United States Department of Justice and the State of Minnesota, in which it promised to provide effective communication for deaf patients and deaf companions, and to not rely on family members to interpret.

“This settlement with Fairview represents an important milestone for the Minnesota Deaf community.” States Heather Gilbert of Gilbert Law PLLC, a law firm in Minnesota with ASL fluent attorneys. “In light of the multiple lawsuits against Fairview over the years for allegations of same or similar deaf discrimination, and as one of Minnesota’s largest healthcare networks and providers, it is encouraging to see Fairview make these necessary changes to its policies and procedures, and begin to take the right steps toward providing equal access to healthcare for all Minnesotans.”

Gilbert Law PLLC is a civil rights law firm committed to representing protected classes so they have full and equal access to all parts of society. Heather Gilbert may be reached at 651-340-9642.

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