Kaiser Permanente Washington will pay more than $1 million to settle claims the health care giant repeatedly denied interpreters to patients who are deaf and deaf-blind, federal prosecutors in Washington state announced Tuesday.
Western Washington U.S. Attorney Nicholas W. Brown said a federal investigation found evidence of “systemic failures,” with about 400 instances during a four-year period when an interpreter was requested by staff but none was provided — leading to delayed patient care and communication issues.
“When health care facilities fail to provide interpreters to patients and their families, including those who are deaf or hard of hearing, it creates a major barrier to safe and appropriate medical care,” Brown said in statement.” This settlement is a necessary step to ensuring that people receiving care through this system are able to communicate timely and effectively about their medical needs.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office said the settlement establishes a $1 million fund to pay claims to patients whose rights were violated under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and Kaiser will pay the U.S. $85,000 to resolve the allegations.
The insurance and health care provider has also agreed to improve its policies and training around using interpreters, which will be reviewed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for two years.
In a statement Wednesday, Kaiser Permanente said the settlement expands on the improvements the company has already put in place, including the installation of video interpretation services at its medical facilities, and contracting with various interpretive services to ensure there is an “adequate network” of in-person interpreters when needed.
“Supporting our members and patients who face physical and social barriers to quality care is core to Kaiser Permanente’s mission. We are deeply committed to providing access to high quality care and care resources for each member, including but not limited to auxiliary aids and services,” Kaiser Permanente Katie Rodihan said in the statement. “We are proud to have already made a great deal of progress improving programs and practices for our deaf, blind, and hard of hearing patients. … We affirm our continued support for ongoing education, training, and establishment of programs that support our patients.”
Kaiser operates 41 medical facilities in Washington state.