Partial amputation prompts medical language access concerns


An ongoing federal lawsuit has been filed against a Tennessee hospital that did not provide adequate sign language interpreting services for a deaf patient, drawing attention to the importance of language access measures in the healthcare system.

The plaintiff, a deaf patient at Parkwest Hospital, received a partial amputation in Nov. 2017 — he alleges, however, that had the hospital provided him with an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter, he would have been able to sufficiently communicate his healthcare needs and the partial amputation could have been avoided.

The patient first visited Parkwest Hospital in Oct. 2017 after a fall that left his right leg and foot numb and sore — upon requesting an ASL interpreter, he was denied by the hospital. Unable to fully assess the degree of his pain, the hospital sent him home with an antibiotic and ibuprofen, according to a recent report from a local ABC affiliate in Knoxville. 

Later on, the pain worsened and after another visit to the hospital, it was determined that he had severe blood clotting in his foot. This time, the hospital eventually provided video remote interpreting services. However, the plaintiff claims that poor connectivity and blurry imagery rendered these services ineffective. According to the lawsuit, he was, once again, sent home by the staff at Parkwest Hospital. This time, however, he was sent home in worse condition than the first visit, with a blue foot and on strong sedative medication.

Eventually, the patient received healthcare at another hospital, the University of Tennessee Medical Center (UTMC), which provided him with medical interpreting services throughout the entire duration of his stay. However, at UTMC, he was informed that part of his leg would need to be amputated. Worse yet, the lawsuit claims that doctors at UTMC told the patient the amputation could have been avoided had he been able to communicate his concerns with the doctors at Parkwest through a medical interpreter.

The ongoing lawsuit alleges that the defendants, Parkwest Hospital and Covenant Health, a medical facilities operator, violated the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act for not providing proper language access services, ultimately leading to an unfavorable, yet avoidable health outcome.

Of course, medical interpreters are a particularly crucial aspect of any functioning healthcare environment. Still, a surprising number of hospitals throughout the United States are ill-equipped to provide adequate interpreting services to their patients with limited English proficiency — as MultiLingual reported last year, only 75% of hospitals in areas with high levels of need for interpreting services are prepared to provide sufficient interpreting services for their patients in need.

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Andrew Warner
Andrew Warner is a writer from Sacramento. He received his B.A. in linguistics and English from UCLA and is currently working toward an M.A. in applied linguistics at Columbia University. His writing has been published in Language Magazine, Sactown Magazine, and The Takeout.

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