Lawsuit charges Parkway with poor service for deaf

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A deaf man, whose deaf wife died last year after being treated at Parkway Hospital in Forest Hills, has filed a lawsuit in federal court charging that the hospital did not provide him with a competent sign language interpreter during his wife’s two-month stay there.

Norman Posner, 82, told his lawyer via a teletype machine that he wanted to sue the hospital in the hopes of getting it to implement a policy that would ensure that deaf patients in the future would not have to go through the same problems that he endured.

The lawsuit was filed Sept. 17 in federal court in Brooklyn. Posner’s case is being handled by the New York Lawyers for the Public Interest as well as the Manhattan law firm of White & Case.

Dr. Frank Mazzagatti, senior vice president of Parkway Hospital denied claims that the hospital failed to accommodate the deaf couple, saying the hospital has always had a policy in place that addresses both internal and external dispatching of sign language interpreters.

“We comply completely with the American Disabilities Act,” said Mazzagatti. “We are completely prepared to disclose the log of all the accommodations and provisions that we made for the family.”

The Posners are seeking an injunction, which would require that Parkway Hospital change its policy for dealing with deaf and hard- of-hearing patients as well as for damages. Lawyers would not disclose how much the Posners were suing for in damages.

Posner’s wife, Sarah Posner, was an elderly woman who suffered from multiple medical problems, including a serious heart condition and a kidney condition. During her stay in the hospital from March 23 to May 21, 2001, her husband was asked to make various medical decisions for her because she was deemed by the hospital to be too sick to make her own decisions.

The hospital provided the Posners with an in-house physical therapist who knew at least some basic sign language. The Posners complained on various occasions that the physical therapist was not qualified to serve as a sign language interpreter. When the hospital allegedly failed to provide another interpreter, Posner approached the New York Lawyers for the Public Interest for help.

According to Pauline Yoo, NYLPI’s lead attorney for the case, the following transpired: the NYLPI wrote three letters to the hospital asking that it provide the Posners with a qualified interpreter. The first letter was written after Posner’s original complaint. The second was written after Posner was asked to sign two consent forms for his wife to undergo two medical procedures: one for the insertion of a dual lumen for hemodyalisis, and the second for hemodyalisis.

The third was written after the hospital’s physical therapist was deemed unqualified by an observer sent by the NYLPI to evaluate the situation, Yoo said. The observer was fluent in both American sign language and medical terminology.

“They just kept on telling everyone that they were going to keep on doing what they were doing because that was their policy to use their in-house physical therapist,” said Yoo.

According to Rose Cuison-Villazor, another NYLPI lawyer, not providing a qualified sign language interpreter violates the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the New York State Human Rights Law, and the New York City Human Rights Law.

“It’s a civil rights issue,” said Cuison-Villazor. “There should be a sign language interpreter, just as there would need to be a foreign language interpreter.”

While it was unacceptable to the Posners that the hospital used an individual whose full-time job was not to act as sign language interpreter to translate, Mazzagatti said the hospital often asked nurses and other staff to act as interpreters for patients who speak foreign languages.

“They rise to the occasion,” said Mazzagatti.

The Posners have a daughter who is not hard of hearing, who could act as a sign language interpreter, but Cuison-Villazor said it would not be acceptable for the hospital to expect family members to act as interpreters.

The Queens Independent Living Center, an advocacy group for people with disabilities, is also suing Parkway Hospital, in the hopes of ensuring that deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals within their community receive proper health care. The organization learned about the Posner’s case through lawyers at NYLPI.

“Deaf and hard of hearing encounter many obstacles when it comes to communications, and health care is a terrible place for there to be obstacles when they’re trying to receive a service,” said Matthew Sapolin, co-executive director of QILC. “The Posners and all other hard of hearing and deaf should be provided with the same services as you or I.”

Reach reporter Tien-Shun Lee by e-mail at, or call 229-3300, Ext. 155.

Posted 7:24 pm, October 10, 2011
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