Deaf Mom-to-be gives Birth in the Wrong Hospital?


“Hello this is Byron, Cheylla needs your help…”

As a lawyer practicing civil law, you rarely receive a cry for help at 8:45 in the evening from a client. I knew that it was happening again – another client who is Deaf that could not get an interpreter for medical care.

I represent Cheylla Silva in a case against South Miami Hospital that was the subject of an August 30, 2014 Miami Herald article  We ensured – guaranteed – that Cheylla was going to receive a sign language interpreter when she gave birth at South Miami Hospital after her high risk pregnancy, so she would have the ability to understand the doctors and nurses. She would not be forced to contort her body to use a remote interpreter on a monitor that rarely works or pass notes during contractions.

However, it seems the best plans often go astray, especially when a baby was not clued into the fact that there are court cases and agreements and guaranties! The baby decided to come early, and Cheylla was bleeding. The ambulance was called and insisted on bringing her to the closest hospital, Kendall Regional Medical Center. Cheylla and her boyfriend, Byron, pled for an interpreter to every person in the hospital. The nurse asked Byron, if he could be the interpreter, and he said “no, I’m hard of hearing” so they provided the number for an interpreting service, Accessible Communication for the Deaf (ACD).

There was no communication with Cheylla or Byron until Cheylla’s younger brother, who knows a little sign language, arrived at the hospital and asked the nurse about the interpreter and was told but it would take them at least 24 hours to obtain an interpreter. Cheylla was furious. She was bleeding and having contractions, she did not know what was happening or going to happen. Her baby was just not ready. She did not know if she or her baby were going to live. She did not have 24 hours to wait to understand what was happening to her. Byron texted ACD and asked for help. Byron emailed me and pled for help.

At the same time, the head nurse tried, but could not get the video remote interpreter to work and instead, used the interpreter’s number – that Cheylla provided – to get assistance to get the video remote interpreter to work. Thereafter, Lisa Campbell from ACD called me and discussed Cheylla’s needs.

Cheylla has a right to an interpreter when giving birth. She should not be worrying about communication more than the directions that she needed, the pain she was feeling and the questions about her health, the baby’s health that she and her boyfriend would have. There are some basic tenets of care during labor that demand basic reassurances and comfort during this time. There was no other option than for ACD to provide interpreters without promise of payment. Lisa was 45 minutes away, but another ACD interpreter, Brenda Adkinson, was only 15 minutes away, and immediately went to Kendall Regional Medical Center. Brenda stayed until 5:30 the following morning, and then Lisa took over and was there when baby Zoey was born at 8:15a.m.. Interpreters then continued to be provided during her hospitalization.

Picture of Baby Zoey in incubator

Baby Zoey

Baby Zoey was born at four pounds, five ounces, and is a beautiful and healthy baby. Cheylla and Byron are doing fine.

The staff at the maternity ward knew about the article in the Herald about Cheylla, but they could not understand the importance of it since no one else has ever complained. They insisted that they called the HCA Language Line and they said they would get an interpreter in 24 hours. While she was there, ACD Interpreter Brenda Adkinson took the time to educate them:

So I then explained to them that is a misuse of VRI. It is only to be used in a reception desk environment. I said, “can you imagine being hospitalized and having to sit up to communicate? If the patient is in labor, who is going to hold the whole computer system up above the patient’s head to see it? What if Wi-Fi drops? What if you need to call tech support? Will the baby wait until tech support arrives?

A live interpreter guarantees you are able to provide best care to your patient. It is a federal law. It doesn’t come out of your pocket, let the hospital pay, why stress yourself out?

When management of the hospital were made aware of the situation, they immediately agreed to pay for the interpreter fees and agreed that VRI should only be used as an interim measure until a live interpreter arrives.

However, the denial of effective communication for the deaf is systemic. Doctors and hospitals know their duties to communicate with their patients, and many hospitals and doctors continue to ignore this duty, and even refuse to see patients. A lawyer should not be needed in the delivery room!

Byron Mena and Cheylla Silva with newborn baby Zoey

Byron Mena and Cheylla Silva with newborn baby Zoey

16 thoughts on “Deaf Mom-to-be gives Birth in the Wrong Hospital?

  1. Katherine

    why not teach most, if not all, public service workers sign language? they won’t be up to interpreter standard, but they will be able to communicate much more effectively.

  2. NanetteT

    OMG!! I’m so sorry this happened. I work with the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Young Adults and am always trying to educate them about their rights. Especially their rights to an interpreter at any time!! I feel so badly for this woman, childbirth itself is a scary situation and to top it off with NO one to properly communicate is beyond words!! Thank you to the Lawyer to helped everyone out and for the 2 women who came to the rescue of this couple!! You would think BIG business would KNOW about accessibility rights!!

  3. Marbeth

    Outrageous! I am a doula & midwife assistant. My daughter is deaf and we advocate constantly for her rights everywhere. I can’t imagine how this family felt. It is my passion to assist deaf mothers and families expand through birth with clear, supportive communication in ASL.

  4. I strongly feel that every one who is deaf should have an interpreter there with them to understand whats going on. it is very important because they are deaf and cant talk. i know sign language because i have a lot of friends that are deaf, and yes it does come in handy when you know what your saying to the other person.

  5. Mike Avey

    How does every hospital in the area prepare for such an emergency? Primary care that was expected to be used, was negated by physical emergency. Now for that we need a lawyer to collect his percent of settlement for something the hospital, used in an emergency, that was able to provide quite successful outcome for mother and baby, is now to be crucified by a lawyer, who not only did not help but could not help, wants to blame those who served brilliantly and extort money. This couple and the lawyer should be singing the hospital’s praises instead of looting their limited funds. Despicable conduct!!!

    • I love flames, because they usually have no basis in fact. As a condition of accepting millions upon millions of dollars of Medicaid money, hospitals are required to have policies to “prepare for such an emergency” and ensure effective and equal communication. In fact, this hospital is going to make more on a few hours of neonatal care than on an interpreter being in the hospital 24/7. As to a lawsuit, damages are limited solely by reason that the law itself does not provide damages for this type of discrimination unless one can prove that the actions were done either intentionally or with deliberate indifference to the rights of persons with disabilities, which is a very tough standard. On top of that, the damages are limited to actual damages, that means that there are no damages for punishing the hospital. So in a case where interpreters are provided by the deaf person or a party other than the hospital, the damages are non existent. So what does this mean? Due to limited remedies and an incredibly difficult legal standard, hospitals continue to fail to provide effective communication or provide minimal training to their staff 25 years after the ADA and 40 years after the rehabilitation act. If this was any population other than persons with disabilities, we would not be having this discussion in 2014.

  6. Pingback: My Words
    • Next time that you are trying to pass a baseball sized kidney stone, try to write down your medical questions on a pad. (Writing is only good for short conversations – i.e. how much is a hamburger, not is my premature baby ok, and what is happening with her condition?) It all depends on the length, complexity, and importance of the conversation. The longer, more complex and more important the conversation is dictates the type of translation needed. You cant get more lengthy or complex then the birth of a premature baby!.

  7. Melinda J. Brown

    Hi, this is my first time in relying. She needed a live interpreter in ASL. We live in Miami. If she only spoke Spanish and was not deaf. She would get a live Spanish interpreter. Why the discrimination? It is beyond me how narrow minded people can be….. It is her life and the life of her baby that we are talking about. I am very glad that those two women were compassionate and cared to rush to help her. As well as stayed til her baby was born.

    • Nope. If she were Spanish, she would not need a live interpreter, they have interpreters over the phone, for ASL, to have equal communication, some times a live interpreter is needed, and when working well, a video relay interpreter could be used in an emergency.

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