New York, NY – Wednesday, July 29th, 2015 – Today, on the heels of the 25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Disability Rights Advocates (DRA), a national nonprofit leader in civil rights litigation on behalf of persons with disabilities, filed a federal class-action lawsuit in the Southern District of New York alleging that Union Community Health Center (UCHC) discriminates against patients with disabilities at its medical facility located at 2021 Grand Concourse in the Bronx. The suit, brought on behalf of Bronx Independent Living Services (BILS) and several individuals with disabilities, alleges that any patients with disabilities who do make it through the facility’s front door encounter widespread architectural barriers, ineffective policies and procedures, and inaccessible medical equipment that cumulatively degrades the quality of care received by patients with disabilities, and ultimately jeopardizes their health.
Plaintiff Rodolfo Diaz, who lives in the Bronx and uses a manual wheelchair, said: “I was basically told that I could not be treated there unless I brought a person who could lift me onto an exam table. I felt frustrated that UCHC would turn me away as a patient just because I use a wheelchair.”
In addition to the numerous issues related to the facility’s structural accessibility, the Complaint details the hospital’s lack of effective policies to address the needs of wheelchair users when transferring to and from examination tables, as well as their paucity of accessible medical and diagnostic equipment. Furthermore, the Complaint alleges that UCHC employs woefully inadequate practices when it comes to communicating with deaf patients and patients with hearing loss, and fails to provide information in large print or other alternative formats to blind and low-vision patients. UCHC’s lack of effective policies compromises the quality of care received if disabled patients are able to enter the facility and attempt to receive health care. BILS proposed working with UCHC to resolve architectural barriers and implement policies and procedures that would effectively meet the needs of patients with disabilities. UCHC, however, refused to commit to such a resolution.
Especially having just celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, these blatant violations cannot continue to deter and preclude disabled residents of the Bronx from receiving the services offered at UCHC. 176,915 residents of the Bronx have one or more disabilities, which is the highest percentage of residents with disabilities in the five boroughs. Bronx County is ranked last among all New York State counties in health outcomes and health factors, and Bronx residents have high rates of chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, and cancer. There were only about 312 physicians per 100,000 residents of the Bronx in 2013, compared to 428 physicians per 100,000 New York City residents. Individuals living in Bronx County are thus more likely to lack a regular primary health care provider than other residents of New York City.
Plaintiff Brett Eisenberg, the Executive Director of BILS, who uses a power wheelchair and whose vision is limited, said: “UCHC has disregarded our requests to provide accessible services. Such practices limit the disability community’s access to essential health care services in an area that is already underserved.”
“While promoting itself as a full service medical and dental facility that focuses on the individual, UCHC actually fails to serve a large segment of nearby residents who may need its services most,” said Michelle Caiola, Senior Staff Attorney at DRA. “UCHC has perpetuated a two-tier system of care by refusing to comply with federal, state and city disability law.”
Union Community Health Center is affiliated with SBH Health Systems, d/b/a St. Barnabas Hospital.
About Disability Rights Advocates
With offices in New York and California, Disability Rights Advocates (DRA) is one of the leading nonprofit disability rights legal centers in the nation. Its mission is to advance equal rights and opportunity for people with all types of disabilities nationwide. In the organization’s 20+ year history, DRA has taken on more than 400 cases and won almost all—achieving dramatic improvements for people with disabilities seeking health care, employment, transportation, education, disaster preparedness planning, voting and housing. DRA has achieved success in negotiating agreements to improve access for patients with disabilities at Kaiser Permanente, Sutter Health, and the Mount Sinai Health System. For more information, visit http://www.dralegal.org.
About Bronx Independent Living Services
Bronx Independent Living Services (BILS) is a nonprofit, community-based organization dedicated to empower all people with disabilities to understand and exercise their civil and human rights in order to live fully integrated lives in mainstream society. BILS assists individuals by providing them the necessary tools to make informed decisions about their own lives through access to education, skills development, and access to appropriate resources. On a systemic level, BILS is committed to facilitating social, economic, and civic change by advocated for the removal of architectural, communication, and attitudinal barriers that have limited the disabled community for far too long. For more information, visit http://www.bils.org.
About the 25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act
July 26, 2015 marked the 25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Celebrations of the signing of the ADA by President George H.W. Bush on July 26, 1990 are taking place across the nation. The ADA and the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA) give civil rights protections to individuals with disabilities similar to those provided to individuals on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, age, and religion. The ADA and ADAAA also assure equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities for access to businesses, employment, transportation, state and local government programs and services, and telecommunications. DRA has successfully used the ADA and the ADAAA to protect the civil rights of people with disabilities across the nation for more than 20 years.