Thursday, March 08, 2007

400: Freedom to Choose Deaf

When we met with the hospital administration they made a throwaway comment which bothered me tremendously - they compared the provison of on-site interpreters to giving everyone luxury cars. I was like, WHAT? To me, it didn't make sense. To me we were fighting for a car that works. 60% of the time, we don't have a car at all, according to statistics from Rockland County Mental Health; there just aren't enough interpreters. But Beth Israel thinks they're giving us luxury cars. Uh-huh. Interpreters are not a luxury - and we must stop people when they call then luxuries. Interpreters are, in many cases, survival equipment, and it is equipment we fought for.

It's always about money. The hospital needs to save cash. Why? Because they're losing some. Eliot Spitzer has been making budget cuts to the support the state gives to hospitals; Unions across New York as well as independent organizations have been contacting his office on this issue. Yet these cuts haven't taken effect yet. But whether they do or not, money is always going to be an issue.

Still - the hospital MUST respect the Deaf person's choice of communication. At the heart we're really asking for the freedom of choice. God, in some ways this is like the abortion argument: People arguing for morality, in this case the morality of fiscal responsibility rather than the morality of chastity. "We have to save money!" Because we Deaf people aren't worth the spending of it, is the unspoken second line. Our freedom of choice and comfort in an issue of such importance as our health isn't worth the cash.

Yes. Yes it is. Yes, we are. But the case must be clear: I have no issue with the use of VRI in the emergency room. There are not enough ASL interpreters. Some of the interpreters we do have, do crazy things like get sick or go on vacation. VRI is a reasonable pinch hitter. We are advocating against people thinking it's Derek Jeter. But the hospital can still save - by giving people choice, instead of taking it away. Here's three points:
  • My first point: the hospital is starting from a baseline of zero (0.) This means the hospital has zero (0) users of VRI. Were they to make use of VRI an option for all regularly scheduled appointments as well as emergency appointments, this number would increase, resulting necessarily in a savings for the hospital.
  • My second point: most of the problems hospitals have, have to do with their complete LACK of policy regarding the provision of ASL interpreters. We all know you need to request 1 week 2 weeks in advance? Most hospitals do it the same day - then get pissed when nobody shows up and blame the interpreting service and use this as an excuse to switch to the "always-available" VRI.
  • My third point: the hospital wastes money on interpreters unnecessarily for jobs that are not strictly interpreting. A hospital with a large Deaf population could, e.g., hire a few Deaf employees the way they hire other groups for diversity. And these employees would be responsible for orientation, support, and basic services for Deaf consumers.
Interpreters go over forms with clients - why pay someone $100 an hour to do THAT? Hire a Deaf person as a counselor or receptionist. Spend a quarter of the money and get twice as much done. Save the on-site interpreters for the crucial parts - doctor's appointments, surgical procedures, pre-operative and recovery. How many hours do your ASL interpreters spend explaining what aspirin is and how many times to take it? Hire a Deaf person instead for education and nutrition. Concerned about compliance in cases of Acts of God? Get a Deaf person to maintain a list of Deaf patients in the hospital and their locations in case of emergency or terrorist attack to organize and facilitate the communication with and evacuation of those patients. Get a Deaf person to ensure compliance. Do you see now? Rather than reduce the quality and quantity of communication at its most crucial points, save money by reducing in unnecessary areas- while at the same time increasing the number of available services - CHOICE - to Deaf consumers.

We're not asking for a free ride. But hearing people never include us in their Big Plans, and then they fail to see what, to us, are obvious ways of saving money. Other ideas?


abc said...

That is a totally LAME response. You know and I know they are simply challenging the Deaf community to "Sue Us!" They know they are wrong, but they think Deaf people are powerless and have no political/legal voice. If someone knows a lawyer willing to take on these type of cases, I know of a LOT of violations that need to be litigated.

ON THE OTHER HAND, since I work in health care I know there are problems with the VRS option. Most healthcare providers refuse to use video conferencing because of HIPAA regulations. Sorenson (and other low-end video devices) are not secure, and technically they don't meet the federal privacy requirements under HIPAA. I have done video counseling for many years, but cannot use "cheap" equipment -- it must be encrypted to pass the federal regs.

FRUSTRATING!! Every time there's a simply solution, something screws it up...

JRS said...

FYI, we had lawyers at our meeting. But our goal is to educate the hospital BEFORE something happens to a Deaf person. The worst thing in the world to me would be to allow this to go through and do nothing to make sure the policy for using VRI/VRS/On-site terps is CLEAR and WELL-THOUGHT-OUT. Because people could get sicker and die - DEAF people - and I would feel that forever.

So our job is to teach and help... *FINGERS CROSSED*

mishkazena said...

Man, they are still giving the Deaf Community a hard time. What's matter with them? How can they value the civil rights of the deaf so little?? Keep on fighting.

Barb DiGi said...

I love your proposal! Why don't you just draft a sample letter and include website addresses of state government officials as well as federal officials where we can send it to them? That way they will hear more of us!

As you know ESAD is trying to get back and running so another way is to contact them to push for this proposal to be passed.

Won't submitting letters and having ESAD involved to address these concerns be possible?