Deaf woman sues Michigan hospital for not aiding disability

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GRAND RAPIDS — A deaf woman sued a Michigan hospital, alleging that it violated federal laws by failing to provide her with a sign language interpreter when she was transferred to the hospital last fall.

Christine Ketola is accusing McLaren Greater Lansing of failing to accommodate her by not communicating with her effectively after she was transferred there in October for abdominal pain.

“As a deaf American, (Ketola) primarily communicates in American Sign Language or ‘ASL’ for short,” according to the lawsuit filed April 3 in U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids. “She requires an ASL interpreter to effectively communicate and participate in a health care setting.”

Ketola “suffered the protracted humiliation of not understanding her medical care” because staff used note writing and faulty technology to communicate with her, the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit alleges the hospital violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, Affordable Care Act and other federal laws by failing to accommodate Ketola’s needs. She is seeking monetary damages and attorney’s fees.

Linda Toomey, the hospital’s marketing manager, told the Lansing State Journal in a statement that McLaren couldn’t comment on the specifics of the case because it didn’t receive the complaint yet.

But Toomey noted that the hospital provides accommodations to ensure health care access and effective communication are available to all patients.

“Our facility utilizes technology that allows for communication with our patients and families when English is not a first language, including American Sign Language interpreter services for patients with hearing disabilities,” the statement said.

The hospital uses a Video Remote Interpreter, where an interpreter is located remotely to facilitate communication between health care workers and the patient through a screen, according to the statement.

But Ketola’s lawsuit alleges that the VRI wasn’t effective when her doctor was discussing with her the risks and benefits of gallbladder surgery.

She’s requesting that a federal judge order the hospital to create policies and protocols to ensure “effective communication, full and equal enjoyment, and a meaningful opportunity for deaf individuals to participate in and benefit from” their health care.

“Language is the cornerstone of the patient-physician relationship,” Ketola’s attorneys wrote in the legal complaint.

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