One morning in September 2013, Richard Quintal fell off a ladder while trimming a friend’s tree.
He was rushed with a collapsed lung and broken ribs to the emergency room at Lowell General Hospital in Massachusetts. As his health care proxy — the person designated to make medical decisions if he becomes incapacitated — she needed to understand what was going on.
Then John Paul Jebian asked staff at Baptist Hospital of Miami for an American Sign Language interpreter.
They instead brought a video screen with an internet link to a remote interpreter to help him understand what the doctors and nurses were saying.
“And it froze again, and then it froze again.” Wheeler can read lips but said that in that situation, “my mind was not in any condition to focus on lip reading.” In a written statement, the hospital said that the emergency department staff receives training on how to operate the video interpreting service and that there can be a delay getting in-person interpreters because the hospital is in a rural area.
Deaf relatives of hospital patients can also struggle with video equipment.
While a hospital may decide what type of aid to give a patient, the Affordable Care Act requires that hospitals give “primary consideration” to a patient’s choice.
Since 2011, the Department of Justice’s Barrier-Free Health Care Initiative has settled 16 cases involving interpreting services for deaf hospital patients, with some settlements reaching ,000.
On-site interpreters can be costly and hard to arrange, so hospitals have sought out alternatives, including video conferencing with remote interpreters, who can be helping a patient in Ohio one minute and in Oregon the next.
Many deaf patients have taken to social media to complain about the use of video interpreting services in emergency rooms.