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Patient Privacy May Trump Deaf Companion’s Right to Interpreter

Oct. 1, 2019, 6:22 PM

A Maryland hospital is facing trial on a deaf woman’s claim that it violated federal disability bias law by failing to provide her with an American Sign Language interpreter during her husband’s last illness, the District of Maryland said.

Patricia Ganzzermiller’s claim against the University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Medical Center based on its failure to provide her with auxiliary aids to enable effective communication depends on whether it prevented her from receiving information she was entitled to receive, the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland said.

The court denied the hospital’s motion for summary judgment, saying it couldn’t resolve a factual dispute over the information Ganzzermiller was entitled to receive based on the record.

There is little law on whether a nonpatient deaf companion’s Rehabilitation Act rights equal those of a patient, the court said. But it’s undisputed that a patient has a right to privacy in his protected health information under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, it said.

Ganzzermiller was entitled to auxiliary aids to enable effective communication with her husband’s caregivers, the court concluded. But her husband’s HIPAA rights tempered her ability to enforce that right, it said.

Ganzzermiller’s husband had elected to withhold certain medical information from his wife throughout his illness, the court said. The hospital, therefore, couldn’t be liable for failing to provide her with auxiliary aids if by doing so it would have provided her with more information than her husband wanted her to have, thereby violating her husband’s right to privacy in that information, it said.

Judge Catherine C. Blake wrote the Sept. 30 opinion.

Eisenberg & Baum LLP and the National Association for the Deaf represented Ganzzermiller. Miles & Stockbridge PC represented the hospital.

The case is Ganzzermiller v. Univ. of Md. Upper Chesapeake Med. Ctr., 2019 BL 371937, D. Md., No. 1:16-cv-3696, 9/30/19.

To contact the reporter on this story: Mary Anne Pazanowski in Washington at mpazanowski@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jo-el J. Meyer at jmeyer@bloomberglaw.com; Patrick L. Gregory at pgregory@bloomberglaw.com

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