KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — A federal lawsuit filed against Parkwest Hospital in Knoxville, Tennessee, and Covenant Health alleges a deaf patient could have avoided having his leg partially amputated if staff had provided him with a live interpreter during several hospital visits in 2017.
Documents allege that the plaintiff went to Parkwest in October 2017 after experiencing numbness and pain in his right leg and foot as a result of a fall. While there, he said his request for an American Sign Language interpreter was denied. Without the aid of an interpreter, he was sent home with an antibiotic and ibuprofen following an X-ray.
Days later, the plaintiff went to the Lenoir City Emergency Room after pain in his leg and foot increased.
Doctors in Lenoir City transferred him back to Parkwest to see a vascular surgeon and requested an interpreter after determining he was suffering from blood clots, according to the lawsuit. Instead, he was reportedly provided with a video remote interpreting device, which the lawsuit claims was ineffective due to consistent disconnections and blurry picture as a result of the hospital’s firewall.
The plaintiff underwent surgery the next day in an attempt to remove the clots and insert a medical device, during which court documents state his daughter was made to serve as an interpreter.
The lawsuit claims the surgery left him in severe pain and he was unable to communicate with the medical staff about his condition before he was sent home heavily sedated and with a blue foot.
After a Nov. 1 appointment with his family doctor, the plaintiff was then sent to the University of Tennessee Medical Center, where he was provided 24/7 live ASL interpretive services. Less than a week after his first procedure, he underwent another surgery on Nov. 2 but was informed on Nov. 5 that he would have to undergo a partial amputation.
On Nov. 7, 30% of his right leg was amputated from the knee down. Staff at UT Medical Center informed him that they would have been able to save his foot if he had come to their facilities earlier, according to the lawsuit.
As a result of the lack of effective communication, the lawsuit states the patient did not understand the reason for his admission, purposes of treatments provided, including common risks, details of any aftercare or discharge instructions, nor was he aware of any alternative treatments.
The lawsuit seeks damages and attorney fees from Parkwest Hospital and Covenant Health, a health care facilities operator, for purported violations of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act for failing to accommodate his disability.
It seeks an injunction to require the two entities to provide in-person interpreters when requested by deaf or hard of hearing individuals, to notify patients who are deaf or hard of hearing of their right to effective communication, and to create a list of sign language interpreters to ensure their availability at any time.
It also seeks the defendants’ recognition that video remote interpreting systems may not be appropriate in all medical situations, and that the defendants train all employees on how to properly use VRI services and how to obtain technical assistance.
In a statement to Nexstar’s WATE, the hospital said, “Parkwest Medical Center and Covenant Health do not comment on issues related to ongoing litigation.”