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December 20, 2017
Contact: HHS Press Office
[email protected]

OCR works with DOJ to ensure federally funded medical center provides communication services for deaf and hard of hearing patients

The University of Vermont Medical Center (UVMMC) has agreed to enter into a Voluntary Resolution Agreement with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR), the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Vermont (DOJ) to ensure effective communication with individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing. UVMMC is an academic medical center that is part of a six-hospital network, serving Vermont and Northern New York. It is a Level I Trauma Center and provides a full range of tertiary-level inpatient and outpatient services, as well as primary care services at 10 Vermont locations. The UVMMC Campus, a regional, academic healthcare center and teaching hospital in alliance with the University of Vermont, is a 562-bed facility and includes most of UVMMC’s inpatient services and an emergency department.

OCR initiated a compliance review with UVMMC under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act after DOJ received two separate complaints alleging violations of Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and its implementing regulation. The two separate complainants alleged that UVMMC failed to provide appropriate auxiliary aids and services necessary for effective communication while they were receiving medical treatment. Both complainants are deaf and use American Sign Language as their primary means of communication. UVMMC is a recipient of HHS federal financial assistance and required to provide appropriate auxiliary aids and services to persons with impaired sensory, manual, or speaking skills so that individuals have an equal opportunity to benefit from the services received.

“If patients cannot communicate effectively with medical providers, their access to health care will suffer,” said OCR Director Roger Severino. “The Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act ensure that persons who are deaf or hard of hearing are given equal access to health care and this resolution shows that we are committed to enforcing this vital law.”

The voluntary resolution agreement requires UVMMC to take remedial actions, including providing notice of the availability of auxiliary aids and services, implementing grievance procedures and feedback protocols, providing training to UVMMC personnel, and updating policies and procedures through continued improvement. UVMMC has also agreed to pay the complainants $20,500 in compensatory relief. The agreement is effective for three years, during which time both OCR and the U.S. Attorney’s Office will monitor UVMMC’s compliance.

The voluntary resolution agreement may be found on the OCR website at https://www.hhs.gov/civil-rights/for-providers/compliance-enforcement/agreements/index.html.

To learn more about non-discrimination and health information privacy laws, and to find information on filing a complaint, visit us at www.hhs.gov/ocr.

Complaints may also be instituted with DOJ pursuant to Title III of the ADA if the hospital is a private hospital.

Those interested in finding out more about the ADA may call the Justice Department’s toll-free ADA information line at 800-514-0301 (TDD 800-514-0383) or visit http://www.ada.gov.

Follow OCR on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HHSOCR

Note: All HHS press releases, fact sheets and other news materials are available at https://www.hhs.gov/news.
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Last revised: December 20, 2017

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