Patient Advocacy: Quiz Time

October 6, 2014 | Leave a Comment

by Andrés J. Gallegos, Esq., Guest Blogger

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Andres Blog 2014

Andres Gallegos, a disability rights attorney, recently visited Second Sense and shared information on your rights under the ADA to receive healthcare in a way that meets your specific needs.  Below he writes about one situation and provides options for handling this difficult situation.  If you have had a similar experience when accessing medical care, please share!

Patient Services

 “Patient Services, how may I help you?” “Yes, my name is Robin Smith. I’m blind. I’m having some lab work done this Friday, and I’d like to arrange for someone to escort me from the hospital’s lobby to the lab department and then back to the lobby when I’m finished.” “I’m sorry Ms. Smith, but you can’t schedule an escort in advance. You’ll have to request one at the service desk in our main lobby when you arrive for your appointment.” “You know, every time I do that I’m always waiting in the lobby anywhere between half an hour and sometimes for more than one hour for someone to escort me.” “Ms. Smith, please understand that our escorts are volunteers and sometimes they’re busy with other patients. Maybe you should bring someone with you.”  

What should Robin do?

A.  Find someone to go with her to the appointment.

B.  Inform the Patient Services representative that would be acceptable if she could be escorted within minutes of asking for an escort instead of having to wait an excessive amount of time.

C.  Vent and give the Patient Services representative an earful.

D.  All of the above.

Before answering, it may be helpful to know the failure to provide timely and reliable patient escorts for persons who are blind or have low vision is likely a breach of the hospital’s obligation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA requires hospitals to reasonably modify their policies, practices and procedures to afford persons with disabilities, among other things, services and accommodations.  Knowing that, what should Robin do? I submit that the correct response is D. Before making my case for “All of the above,” here’s what I feel – good and bad – about the other options alone:

Option A – The Good: Of utmost importance is to ensure you attain the medical attention needed. If you believe the assistance requested won’t be available, or provided timely, correctly or safely, bring someone with you to provide what you know won’t be provided in order to get what’s needed. The Bad: If we only respond to situations like Robin’s by always bringing someone with us, we become part of the problem. While yes, it gets us what we need, that repeated response by itself enables healthcare providers to continue ignoring their legal obligations under the ADA.

Option B – The Good: Informing the Patient Services representative the policy would be acceptable if an escort arrives within minutes instead of having to wait an excessive amount of time is instructive and enlightens the Patient Services representative of the problem with their execution of the policy. The Bad: While instructive…it’s a Patient Services representative. It’s unlikely the representative will be in a position to do anything about it. Providing feedback on the effectiveness of the accommodations provided,  good and bad, is critical, but it must be to the right people, like the Director of Patient Services, the Hospital’s Administrator, President and CEO.

Option C – The Good: Venting can be healthy. It’s better to let things out than to hold them in, and it can be done in a positive and constructive manner. Venting doesn’t need to involve yelling, swearing or dressing down the person. The Bad: Venting alone, while making us feel better, rarely is a solution to the underlying problem, it’s just complaining.

Option D is the best response. Unless Robin can postpone her appointment until she can schedule an escort to meet her upon her arrival or shortly thereafter, she should find someone to go with her to the appointment. It doesn’t enable the hospital to not meet its ADA obligations, and won’t perpetuate the problem, if she informs, in writing, the Director of Patient Services, the Hospital’s Administrator, President and CEO that the policy is ineffective. It’s important that she constructively vent, that is, address in the letter specifically when and how the policy has affected her, and request a change to the policy to permit the advance scheduling of an escort. Writing to address the problem establishes a record of the problem, which then the hospital cannot deny knowledge of the problem if legal action will be required.

Andrés J. Gallegos, Esq., is a disability rights attorney with the law firm of Robbins, Salomon and Patt, Ltd. in Chicago, and has been living with the effects of a spinal cord injury for the past 17 years. Andrés may be reached at (312) 456-0381 or via email at agallegos@rsplaw.com.

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