No sign language interpreter for two years? Deaf former resident can sue nursing home

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A federal judge ruled last week that a former nursing home patient who is deaf can pursue a discrimination case against the facility where she lived for more than two years because staff refused to provide her a sign language interpreter.

In court filings, Kathleen Audia, 63, claims Briar Place in Indian Head Park, IL, delayed her discharge and limited her ability to participate in activities or exercises — including evaluations — by limiting her ability to communicate.

“She did not understand her right to request a discharge or what she needed to do to satisfy Briar Place's discharge criteria,” ruled U.S. District Judge Manish Shah in the Northeastern District of Illinois. “The lack of effective communication caused Audia frustration, fear, and emotional distress.”

Audia went to Briar Place for treatment after a fall and a cut to her head. She was diagnosed with depression, balance and gait issues, and osteoarthritis. But her attorneys argued Briar Place never gave her a requested interpreter for initial assessment, care planning, social service coordination, or physician evaluations. She failed those evaluations and was not allowed to walk outside, she claims, because she did not understand what staff were asking her.

Fully deaf since age 55, Audia has limited ability to verbalize speech or read lips.

Briar Place sought to have the case dismissed, claiming that Audia could not prove discrimination was intentional. The judge denied the request, saying indifference is a more appropriate standard in such cases.

“Requests that go unanswered can support a finding of deliberate indifference,” he wrote.

The decision also allows a claim to proceed under the Affordable Care Act's discrimination clause, but the judge dismissed a count of negligence because Audia didn't back that allegation up with expert testimony, as required by law.