HIPAA Horror Stories

Ask, and ye shall not receive?

one-minute read

A Texas Hospital Group Ignores Patient Right To Access

Thorough compliance means respecting patient right to access healthcare.

A large Texas hospital system has agreed to federal monitoring after an investigation concluded that hearing impaired patients were treated unfairly.

Right To Access Means Providing Reasonable Accommodation

Problems began when a hearing-impaired patient of  CHRISTUS Trinity Mother Frances Health System (CHRISTUS TMF) complained that their requests for an interpreter was ignored on multiple occasions. Requests were made at hospital and clinic locations.

CHRISTUS TMF, of Tyler, Texas, is a faith-based operator of six hospitals and more than 30 outpatient clinics throughout the state.

Further investigation by the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) identified numerous other failures by CHRISTUS TMF to provide adequate and timely services for its deaf and hearing-impaired patients.

The OCR is an investigative and enforcement arm of the Department of Health and Human Services, responsible for receiving Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) complaints.

OCR Director Promotes Right To Access and Equal Treatment

Director Roger Severino, Director of the OCR said, “Good healthcare starts with effective communication and this agreement helps eliminate unnecessary barriers to equal treatment for persons who are deaf of hard of hearing.”

While not technically a HIPAA complaint, allegations about patient access to care are investigated by the OCR. In the case of CHRISTUS TMF, the violations were related to elements of the Affordable Care Act and apply to providers who participate in the federal Medicare and Medicaid programs.

A related issue under HIPAA is the patient right of access to records, a top enforcement priority of OCR, since they have found a majority of providers are not fulfilling their responsibility to provide medical records as HIPAA requires. As with right to access care, the right of access to records requires good communication with all patients.

As part of its voluntary settlement agreement, CHRISTUS TMF agrees to a number of oversight goals taking steps to strengthen its services and provide better right to access for the deaf and hearing impaired community.

  • Performing communication assessments at patient intake and reassessing communication effectiveness regularly;
  • Improving and upgrading its review, assessment, and provision of qualified interpreters, including in-person and by video remote interpreting;
  • Providing annual staff training on effective communication;
  • Submitting reports to OCR regarding CHRISTUS TMF’s ongoing compliance activities, on which OCR will provide CHRISTUS TMF with substantive technical assistance and feedback; and
  • Conducting outreach to local disability groups on the available auxiliary aids and services that CHRISTUS TMF provides to individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Are You Providing Right To Access?

If you are aren’t sure whether your organization’s services are inclusive enough to meet your obligations under HIPAA and the Affordable Care Act, we can help.

Photo by Jo Hilton on Unsplash

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