The Fourth Experience

The Fourth Experience:  Access for Family Members

In this experience, Chad Werner shares how he brought his wife (who is hearing) in to the emergency room and was denied access because he was not the patient.

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Learning from the Fourth Experience

This story provides an opportunity to look at the issue of access for other people who are not the patient.

Providing Communication Access for Companions

Medical facilities may have different policies delineating who they will provide sign language interpreters for in the process of caring for a patient. You will need to check with your own facility for its specific policy. If your facility does not have a policy, here is some information from the U.S. Department of Justice which may provide a starting point.

A number of legal settlements between medical facilities and deaf patients have established a precedent that companions of patients, such as:

  • spouses,
  • significant others,
  • representative designated in health care directive,
  • parents, or
  • legal guardians

need to be accommodated as part of the care team of a patient. While certainly not all patients or family members are looking to pursue legal action, there is a risk of exposing your medical facility to legal liability if you do not provide access to family members who might be called on to make decisions on the part of the patient.

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Transcript of The Fourth Experience Video

One time, when my wife had a horrible headache,and was obviously suffering, we decided to bring her in to the hospital to be seen. When we pulled up, a nurse brought my wife in while I was parking the car. Right away, my wife requested an interpreter for me. When I came back from parking the car, my wife was livid.

I found out it was because the hospital refused to provide an interpreter. I couldn’t understand why, so I also went and made the request and was turned down which meant we were both now upset. We ended up requesting an interpreter five separate times.

Finally, a manager came and explained that hospital policy didn’t allow for interpreters for family members. But I was there in the capacity of making decisions because my wife’s headache was so bad that she couldn’t decide on her own. The manager asked if we had other family members who could decide like our kids or parents. But our kids were young and our parents were far away. When they asked if we could bring in a friend, we refused. I felt strongly that I should be the one deciding. But they were insistent that they couldn’t hire an interpreter.

Finally, we were able to see the doctor. I had to follow them into a room that was not well-lit. I tried to position myself as best I could to lipread, but the doctor simply ignored me. In the midst of it, my wife to tried to fill me in as best she could. I learned there were considering a lumbar puncture and a CT-scan. After a while, they finally settled on giving her some medicine.

The doctor gave me a note with one word on it: medicine. I wasn’t sure what kind, so I was never informed enough to make any decisions for my wife. They decided everything without me.

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