Providence Hospital in Everett at sunset. (Kevin Clark / The Daily Herald file)

Providence Hospital in Everett at sunset. (Kevin Clark / The Daily Herald file)

Following lawsuit, Providence commits to improved care for Deaf patients

Three patients from Snohomish County sued Providence in 2022 for alleged Americans with Disabilities Act violations.

EVERETT — Providence will improve care for Deaf patients in Snohomish County under a settlement agreement announced Friday.

In 2022, three Deaf patients sued Providence after struggling to communicate with staff at multiple care locations. The patients claimed the state’s largest health care provider failed to properly train staff, provide interpreters or implement policies in line with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Providence reached an agreement in U.S. District Court in Seattle last month with the Good Law Clinic and Disability Rights Advocates, the nonprofit law firm representing the patients. Under the terms of the agreement, Providence will hire a Deaf access consultant, improve in-person interpretation services, review virtual interpretation services and update staff training.

(Deaf with a capital D signifies a specific group of people who share a culture and language, American Sign Language, whereas the lowercase word indicates a person with hearing loss, according to the National Association of the Deaf.)

The patients who sued Providence will also be consulted on changes to policy and training. Providence agreed to pay $135,000 for the patients’ attorney fees and costs.

The agreement covers Pacific Medical Centers, Providence Medical Group clinics, Swedish Edmonds, Swedish Mill Creek and Providence Regional Medical Center Everett.

“I am excited that we were able to come to an historic agreement to improve accessibility at many of Providence’s locations,” Kathleen Spencer, an Everett patient who was part of the lawsuit, said in a press release Friday. “I look forward to seeing those improvements soon for a more Deaf-friendly experience.”

In the lawsuit, Spencer, who is Deaf, alleged a technician at Providence Everett assaulted her after becoming impatient with communications in 2020. The hospital denied Spencer’s request for in-person sign language interpreters at subsequent appointments, she alleged. She had a similar experience at Swedish Edmonds, where there was no in-person interpreter, and a receptionist was “rude and unprofessional” while facilitating virtual interpretation, according to the lawsuit.

In the agreement, Providence pledged to provide in-person interpretation at patients’ request. Each care location must have contracts with at least three agencies that provide in-person sign language interpretation, and there must be clear instructions for staff to schedule the interpreter visits.

“Providence Swedish values and respects the dignity of every patient who seeks care at any of our locations,” Kristy Carrington, CEO of Providence Swedish North Puget Sound, said in a press release. “Our collaboration with Disability Rights Advocates ensures patients from the Deaf community have access to the vital communication services necessary to receive the high-quality care they deserve.”

Providence often uses Video Remote Interpreting instead of in-person interpreters. In the lawsuit, patients said the service had faulty technology and a weak connection. Jason Viglianco, of Marysville, used the virtual option at Providence Everett before going into surgery in 2020. A nurse struggled with the service before giving up, according to the lawsuit, leaving Viglianco to communicate with a pen and paper throughout his surgery visit.

Providence has agreed to evaluate the service’s hardware and connections to make improvements.

“Clear communication is imminently important in health care settings,” said Meredith Weaver, a senior staff attorney at Disability Rights Advocates. “For Deaf patients, a sign language interpreter is frequently necessary to facilitate that communication. In this agreement, Providence has committed to concrete steps that will help ensure Deaf patients can expect their communication needs will be met.”

The new Deaf access consultant will help inform Providence’s disability training and policies. All staff are required to participate in the revised training 30 days after the new modules are implemented, and on an annual basis. The training will include:

• An overview of state and federal disability-based discrimination law;

• Deaf culture and norms; and

• How to interact with patients who rely on sign language or oral interpretation services, in-person and virtual.

Employees are also required to document interpretation requests, incidents where patients canceled an appointment due to lack of interpretation services and technical issues with virtual interpretation services.

Sydney Jackson: 425-339-3430;; Twitter: @_sydneyajackson.

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