Lawsuit targets hospital


Staff Writer

Thursday, December 6, 2018

The National Federation of the Blind and Disability Rights North Carolina filed a lawsuit this week against Nash UNC Health Care and the UNC Health Care System for claims of discrimination against blind patients.

The UNC Health Care System, Nash UNC Health Care and some contractors systematically discriminate against blind patients in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the lawsuit claims.

The lawsuit, initiated by the National Federation of the Blind and Disability Rights North Carolina along with individual blind plaintiffs, alleges that blind patients do not receive critical communications in alternate formats — such as braille, large print or electronic documents, according to a press release from the National Federation of the Blind. Instead, they only receive communications in standard print.

“This causes financial and personal hardships for blind patients and does not allow them to keep their medical information private,” Chris Danielsen, director of public relations for the National Federation of the Blind, said in the release.

According to the lawsuit, one of the plaintiffs, John Bone, is a blind patient who visited Nash General Hospital for emergency medical care services on two separate occasions. At each visit, he reportedly informed the hospital that he was blind and needed to receive all his medical bills in braille.

“Mr. Bone instead received all the bills in print, and he did not know how much money he owed or even to whom he owed money until collection agencies pursued and threatened him. Mr. Bone seeks to receive medical bills in braille so he can pay his bills without accruing late fees, enduring harassment from creditors and having his credit score needlessly damaged,” Danielsen said in the release.

Nash UNC Health Care officials would not comment directly on the lawsuit. But in response to a request for comment, Alan Wolf, manager of media relations for UNC Health Care, issued the following statement:

“UNC Health Care is proud of our commitment to treat every patient equally. We strive to ensure all patients have access to information they need to make decisions about their medical care. We do not comment on pending litigation. Additionally, due to privacy concerns, we are unable to discuss issues involving individual patients.”

The lawsuit addresses other UNC Health Care providers as well. Another plaintiff named in the lawsuit  said he visits a UNC Health Care provider at least once every six months and needs documents formatted in large print so he can read them. During his medical visits, he said he is forced to sign forms he cannot read and receives visit summaries, follow-up medical instructions and bills all in standard print, the press release said.

“This patient often must share personal medical information with third parties to understand and follow medical instructions. He seeks to keep his medical information private, which he can do if he received documents in large print,” Danielsen said in the release.

Mark Riccobono, president of the National Federation of the Blind, said blind people deserve consideration in such cases.

“Blind people need and deserve the same privacy and independence in managing our health care that sighted patients take for granted,”  Riccobono said in the release. “In some cases, the ability to receive information in formats we can use can make a life-or-death difference. With today’s technology, providing bills, medical records and treatment instructions in alternative formats is readily achievable, and all providers have a moral and legal obligation to do so.”

Virginia Knowlton Marcus, executive director of Disability Rights NC, said the lawsuit is intended in part to draw attention to the issue,

“We are representing blind individuals in North Carolina because the failure to effectively communicate with them violates their legal rights, increases their chances of incurring fines and damaging their credit scores, disregards their need for independence and privacy and puts their very health at risk,” Marcus said in the release. “Health care providers have the responsibility to know and do better.”