CHEVERLY, Md. - A Prince George’s County family says their rights are being violated.
That family -- who spoke exclusively to FOX 5 – accuses Prince George’s Hospital Center of failing to provide equal access for a deaf family member.
Jaron Gilchrist says his stepfather went into the hospital Sunday and had to have brain surgery. His family has been fighting for four days to get a sign language interpreter for Gilchrist’s mother – the patient’s wife.
According to Angela McCaskill, who is deaf, the hospital provided her an interpreter for a few hours on Sunday, but not during the time when the doctor was available to answer her questions.
After that, the hospital stopped providing a live interpreter and instead gave her a Video Relay Service (similar to Skype for sign language interpreters). But McCaskill says that system didn’t work properly. She claims it was slow, glitchy and couldn’t accurately reflect everything that was happening in the room at the time.
“The image kept freezing,” she explained. “So if I’m speaking with the doctor and the image is freezing, I have to tell the doctor, ‘Please hold, wait until the screen clears up.’ Or it becomes robotic and very pixelated. And it’s not a normal conversation, so I’m missing pertinent information. And I have to make important decisions in regard to my husband’s life.”
McCaskill says multiple nurses and doctors have also expressed concern that she didn’t have an appropriate interpreter. Gilchrist is a certified interpreter, but cannot ethically interpret for a family member. It must be a third party. The family told FOX 5 at times, hospital staff were so fed up with the situation, they would speak around McCaskill to another family member instead of waiting for an interpreter.
“You cannot turn a blind eye or just disregard someone like that,” said Gilchrist. “If the tables were turned and it was you sitting down, laying on your back on your death bed, and you or your husband or wife needed to understand what was happening, you would want equal access as well. You would want to know and understand what was happening. You wouldn’t want people talking around you and ignoring what you’re saying. Just because she’s deaf does not mean she’s dumb.”
Despite repeated attempts to work with hospital management and the chief nursing officer at Prince George’s Hospital Center, Gilchrist says they have refused to provide a live interpreter.
Gilchrist was even escorted out of the hospital after one argument that the family filmed. McCaskill says she is at a loss.
“I’m crushed,” she added. “It’s wrong. Deaf people have suffered for so many years. Even though you have ADA law, you still have people that are not complying with the law. And P.G. Hospital, what they are doing here is wrong.”
FOX 5 reached out to Prince George’s Hospital Center. They declined to directly answer our questions, but provided this statement:
“We are aware of this complaint and are working to respectfully address the issue with the family. We are providing appropriate accommodations in compliance with legal requirements. As with all our patients, we are sensitive to responding to the needs of those who are deaf and hard of hearing.”
Americans with Disabilities Act law states that equal access must be granted – either through a video service or an interpreter. But the video cannot be choppy, grainy or result in an irregular conversation that is not equal to what anyone else experiences. In such cases, the hospital must provide another means for equal access.
Gilchrist says that is the problem. The hospital is speaking for McCaskill when they shouldn’t be.
“A deaf person tells you what they need, you don’t tell them,” he explained.
The family has filed a formal complaint against Prince George’s Hospital Center and say they are seeking to also file a lawsuit.