Opening Acts: November 5, 2015

Deaf People Face Widespread Discrimination in Nursing Homes and Assisted Living Facilities

FHJC Probe Found Many Refused to Provide ASL Interpreter Services

On November 4, 2015, the Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC) filed two federal lawsuits alleging that eleven operators of assisted living and nursing homes refused to make American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters available to Deaf persons at more than two dozen nursing home and assisted living facilities in violation of fair housing and other civil rights laws. The lawsuits, filed in the Southern and Eastern Districts of New York, are based on evidence gathered by the FHJC in an eight month testing investigation. Testers posing as relatives of Deaf persons needing assisted living or nursing home care contacted facilities in the New York City region to inquire about housing and care for their Deaf relatives. The contacts were recorded.

While some of the facilities tested in this investigation readily agreed to provide ASL interpreters when requests were made by testers and some currently had such ASL services available to Deaf residents, many others refused to even consider these requests. The investigation uncovered discriminatory conduct that ranged from overt hang-ups over the phone when a Deaf person called using a video phone to make the request; to overt refusals to provide interpretation services under any circumstances; to more nuanced denials. Some examples of the responses included:

  • When a hearing tester called a nursing home to inquire about whether an ASL interpreter could be provided to his Deaf mother, he was informed that someone could communicate with her by writing at any meetings, church services, and bingo games; that they would be able to communicate with a Deaf resident by pointing and gesturing; and that only hospitals were required to have ASL interpreters, not nursing homes.
  • When a Deaf tester used a video phone to call a nursing home and inquire about whether an ASL interpreter could be provided to his Deaf mother, the Director of Admissions suggested that his mother could communicate using pen and paper. When the Deaf tester responded that his elderly mother is not able to write back and forth, he was told that the facility would not provide an ASL interpreter. 
  • When a hearing tester called to find out if an assisted living facility would be able to provide ASL interpreter for his Deaf aunt, he was told that the facility would not offer ASL interpreter services and that he “should explore other options such as looking for another place or using a white board.”
  • When a Deaf tester used a video phone to call a nursing home and inquire about whether an ASL interpreter could be provided to his Deaf mother, the tester was told that an interpreter would not be provided. When he asked to speak with the director of admissions, the agent hung up on him.
  • When a hearing tester contacted an assisted living facility and inquired about whether an ASL interpreter could be provided to her Deaf aunt, the agent stated an interpreter would not be provided but that the tester should look into providing one herself through “government subsidies.” When the tester called back, she was told that an interpreter is “not something they would provide” and additionally stated “we don’t have to provide that service.”

FHJC Executive Director Fred Freiberg stated, “This action is intended to expand housing opportunities available to the Deaf elderly and eliminate a major barrier that Deaf and Hard of Hearing people confront when searching for assisted living or nursing home care.” Freiberg added, “The mission of the FHJC is to create more open, accessible and inclusive communities. By providing effective communication through American Sign Language (ASL), we can ensure that aging Deaf individuals are welcomed, included, and provided full and equal access to housing and vital health care services.”

Under the federal Fair Housing Act, assisted living and nursing home facilities must consider and grant requests for reasonable accommodation by persons with disabilities, including providing ASL interpreters to Deaf or Hard of Hearing persons so that they can fully access, use, and enjoy a dwelling. In facilities receiving federal financial assistance, ASL interpreter services must be provided upon request under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 when it is necessary to facilitate effective communication with persons who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing to ensure access to and full participation in services and programs. The lawsuits also allege that those facilities located in New York City violated the New York City Human Rights Law. The lawsuits seek damages and injunctive relief to stop the discrimination and ensure that Deaf and Hard of Hearing persons have access to ASL interpreter services in the future.

In the Southern District of New York, the FHJC named the following defendants in its lawsuit:

Catholic Managed Long Term Care Inc. d/b/a Archcare Senior Life
The Mary Manning Walsh Nursing Home Company, Inc.
Atria Senior Living, Inc.
Atria Senior Living in Riverdale, Inc.
Atria Senior Living in South Setauket, Inc.
Jewish Home Lifecare
Jewish Home Lifecare, Sarah Neuman Center, Westchester
Jewish Home Lifecare, Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Campus, Bronx
Jewish Home Lifecare in Manhattan
Elant, Inc.
Elant at Fishkill, Inc.
Elant at Goshen, Inc.

In the Eastern District of New York, the FHJC named the following defendants in its lawsuit:

Allure Rehabilitation Services LLC
Hamilton Park Multicare LLC
Cassena Care LLC
Amsterdam Nursing Home Corporation
Sea Crest Health Care Center, LLC
Centers for Specialty Care Group, LLC
Senior Med LLC
Crown Nursing Home Associates Inc.
SentosaCare, LLC
White Plains Center for Nursing Care LLC
Eastchester Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center, LLC
Golden Gate Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center LLC
Cliffside Nursing Home Inc.
Forest View Nursing Home, Inc.
Ultimate Care Assisted Living Management LLC
Engel Burman Senior Housing at White Plains d/b/a The Bristal at White Plains
Engel Burman Senior Housing at North Woodmere d/b/a The Bristal at North Woodmere
Engel Burman Senior Housing at Sayville, LLC d/b/a The Bristal at Sayville
Engel Burman at Armonk, LLC d/b/a The Bristal at Armonk

FHJC is represented by the law firm of Eisenberg & Baum, LLP. The Eisenberg & Baum Law Center For Deaf and Hard of Hearing is a national leader in providing legal services to Deaf and Hard of Hearing individuals. In a statement, members of the Law Center explained “This lawsuit exposes a complete systemic failure by many nursing homes and assisted living facilities to ensure effective communication access for Deaf individuals, and a corresponding failure to train their staff regarding the rights of Deaf individuals. These facilities have failed the Deaf community by depriving many Deaf individuals of the opportunity to obtain needed residential care that hearing people take for granted.” -Eisenberg and Baum Law Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing; Eric Baum, Esq., Andrew Rozynski, Esq., Sheryl Eisenberg-Michalowski (Deaf Liaison).