BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Going to the doctor is supposed to be simple, but Katrina Labouliere says when her deaf father was referred for a surgery in October, he was turned away.
“The doctor said he’s not going to provide an interpreter, that you can bring a family member if you want, but he doesn’t have the money to pay for an interpreter and he’s not going to hire an interpreter,”Labouliere said.
WAFB chose not to reveal the doctor's name at Labouliere’s request because she wanted to focus more on the situation rather than the surgeon. His office is located on the Baton Rouge General campus on Picardy Avenue and Labouliere says when they tried to work with the surgeon, his staff told them to find someone else.
“It’s hurtful for me, but that’s nothing compared to my dad and other deaf individuals who are discriminated against directly,” said Labouliere.
According to Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), federal law clearly states public places, including a doctor’s office, are required to accommodate people with disabilities. The law specifically points out sign language interpreters as one of the services that must be made available and says the costs of those services cannot be passed on to the patient. Labouliere claims the surgeon’s office broke the law and discriminated against her father simply because of his disability.
"This situation happens every single day," she said. "Every single day you have hearing privileged people making decisions by robbing deaf individuals of their right to communication and communication is a basic fundamental human right."
Attorney Robert Landry has more than 30 years of experience taking on discrimination cases and says he wants people to know they have rights.
“I keep thinking I’m not going to be surprised, but yet again, I’m surprised again and again and again,” said Landry. “You would think after nearly 30 years that all the resources that are out there and on the internet and all the training that’s available that this wouldn’t be a problem, yet it persists.”
WAFB’s Scottie Hunter asked the attorney why a surgeon denying interpreting services, if true, is not okay.
"It's an absolute legal requirement and that legal obligation on the part of the service provider is to not discriminate on the basis of someone having a disability," said Landry.
There’re certain exceptions under the law, which state medical offices do not have to provide the service if the costs would create an extreme burden on the facility. Landry says because the doctor’s office gets referrals from a large hospital like Baton Rouge General, that exception would be almost impossible to prove in this case.
“In general, and I would suspect in this case, that it’s simply a lack of knowledge regarding responsibilities under the law,” Landry added. “If a medical office has not been alerted to its responsibilities under federal law, then they’ve not been trained properly and that’s a problem and a system failure.”
Labouliere posted about the ordeal on Facebook and a few days later, she says the surgeon's office followed up with them to offer a makeup appointment.
The doctor’s office denies the claims, saying staff tried to reach out to an interpreting service to ask for a contract, but tells WAFB they never heard back. The office also says it tried to reach out to the patient several times, but did not get an answer. The surgeon released the following statement to WAFB, calling the whole thing a miscommunication.
“My office reached out to a potential patient who had been referred by the individual’s primary car physician. There were discussions about accommodating the patient’s communication needs. Subsequently, my office received a call from someone who indicated that he would provide interpreting services for the potential patient. He indicated that he would email his contract for services for the potential patient. No such email was ever received. Subsequently, my office called the potential patient multiple times to discuss coordination of interpreting services and an office visit. The potential patient did not return any of those phone calls. My office did not deny interpreting services to the potential patient. Any miscommunication between my office and the potential patient, while unfortunate, was not intentional.”
The 9News Investigators reached out to Baton Rouge General for an explanation and a spokesperson told WAFB the surgeon does not work for Baton Rouge General, but does rent an office space there. That spokesperson released the following statement about the matter.
“At BRG, we recognize and respect the rights of all patients to receive care and communicate with their providers. We were disappointed to hear about Mr. Labouliere’s experience with a doctor who works on our campus. Mr. Labouliere has been a patient at one of our clinics for years and we hope to continue that relationship for many more.”
Labouliere, who works as a licensed sign language interpreter, says her goal is to continue to spread awareness about situations like this.
“While I get really excited about the victories, sometimes when things like this happen, it’s certainly a setback,” she said.
While she does not blame Baton Rouge General, Labouliere hopes by speaking out about her experience with this surgeon, this will never happen to anyone else again.
“How about we just be good humans?” Labouliere said. “How about we just love our neighbor and one another and if someone needs a wheelchair ramp or someone needs a sign language interpreter to communicate with you because that’s their basic fundamental human right, then let’s just do that.”
Labouliere’s father has decided not to move forward with the local surgeon and instead has made an appointment out of town to receive medical care.