Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) entered into a Voluntary Resolution Agreement with John Dempsey Hospital, a subsidiary of University of Connecticut Health Center (UConn Health). The agreement was formed in response to a complaint filed against the hospital for deficits and delays in resources for language assistance services, specifically for a patient who is deaf. After review by the Department of Justice, the hospital was found to lack appropriate policies, procedures, materials, and resources to aid patients who required additional communication methods, including language interpreting services.
Designating a Compliance Coordinator
As part of the agreement, UConn has agreed to address various aspect of compliance including designating a compliance coordinator to be available twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. They have also addressed grievance procedures, paperwork, intake processes, and adjusted technological capabilities, like Video Remote Interpreting. While this is not the first agreement that HHS has entered into, UConn's agreement was unique in that it is the first agreement to date that specified a monetary value paid to a complainant, with a substantial price tag of $20,000.
These actions are, in part, due to Section 1557, a provision of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that extended protection against discrimination to individuals in health programs who receive funding from HHS. These protections expand upon previous legislation, such as Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 by including procedural requirements for healthcare providers who deliver services to clients who require interpreting services due to language barriers and disability.
Heavy Sanctions Handed Down
At its inception, it was unclear to providers how stringent HHS would be in enforcing this provision. However, with recent events, it has become very clear that HHS intends not only to follow through with requirements and enforcement strictly, but that offenders of the provision will receive heavy sanctions and monetary penalties. Healthcare professionals and organizations are receiving the message loud and clear that the HHS is serious about following through on these mandates.
The Future of 1557
Even with the recent political tumult and the uncertainty of the future of the ACA, it is safe to assume that Section 1557, or one like it, will remain in future healthcare legislation. It is prudent that providers become educated regarding procedural requirements detailed in the provision, take the steps necessary to assess their organization and become compliant with requirements. Doing so is the only way to safeguard their organizations against future HHS actions and provide the best quality care to their patients.
Healthcare Compliance Pros has the resources and expertise necessary to help your organization navigate the requirements of Section 1557. All requirement information, trainings, and forms are included in our Corporate Compliance program. Additional support resources are available with Corporate Plus. Please reach out to HCP if you need any additional information or assistance, or to inquire about adding these services to your HCP program.