A Wayne nursing home repeatedly hung up on a deaf woman when she tried to contact the facility using a telephone relay service.
Atrium Post Acute Care must pay Nicole Perkins, 33, of Queens $2,500 to settle the case – and could pay a $10,000 fine to the state if it commits a new violation, Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal and the state Division on Civil Rights announced Wednesday.
The nursing home on northbound Route 23 also must arrange training on state discrimination laws for all employees and company officers.
It must include include education on telecommunications relay services and other assistive communication devices and technology used by those who are deaf or hard of hearing, authorities said.
Under terms of the settlement secured by the state, Atrium denies any wrongdoing.
“This was a troubling case because there simply is no excuse for a nursing home – of all places – to repeatedly refuse to accept a telephone call from an operator calling on behalf of a deaf person,” Grewal said.
“Recent technological advances have been life-changing for deaf people and have had a huge impact on their ability to communicate with others,” said Division on Civil Rights Director Rachel Wainer Apter, “but the technology only works if places of public accommodation, including hospitals and nursing homes, educate staff about their responsibilities.
“Hopefully this case will help us get the word out.”
Perkins was working as a caseworker/advocate at St. Joseph’s Health Care System in Paterson when she tried to contact officials at Atrium Post Acute Care in May 2016 to obtain the medical records of a client, who is also deaf.
She used Purple Communications, through which an operator communicates with a caller via text or using sign language on FaceTime, according to a state complaint.
The Purple operator then called the nursing home to relay the message.
According to state authorities, a man answered the phone, refused to accept the call and said “I’m not responsible” before hanging up.
The operator called back several more times, the complaint says.
Each time, it says, “the same male voice refused to accept the call and, when asked, refused to disclose his name.”
The state Division of Civil Rights got phone records showing that the operator called Atrium Post Acute Care five times within a nine-minute span.
“In interviews with Division investigators, Atrium employees – including two female receptionists tasked with answering the telephones on a regular basis – expressed a lack of familiarity with relay-service-assisted calls,” Grewal said.
“One male employee who said he covers the telephones during receptionist breaks said he may have hung up on what he thought was an automated or ‘robo’ call,” he said.
The Division earlier this year said it was concerned about such a lack of awareness.
“A healthcare provider that routinely receives telephone inquiries from the public and professionals is expected to accommodate deaf or hard of hearing callers by adjusting its telephone protocols to ensure that communications received by a relay service are not mistakenly identified as automated calls,” state documents say.
Atrium’s failure to accept a relay call from Perkins -- who at the time was acting in her capacity as a patient advocate at St. Joseph’s Health Care System – “prevented [her] from performing her job” and frustrated her ability “to obtain requested medical information” on behalf of a deaf client.
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