NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced an agreement with KPH Healthcare Services, Inc., a company based in New York State that operates the Kinney Drugs chain of pharmacies, requiring KPH Healthcare Services to ensure that customers who are deaf or hard of hearing are able to access their services and communicate effectively with pharmacists. Under the agreement, a model for pharmacies across the state, each Kinney Drugs store will install an assistive listening system and implement new policies concerning communication with customers and their family members or companions who are deaf or hard of hearing.
“Full access to healthcare should be available to every New Yorker, regardless of whether or not they have a disability,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “My office is committed to ensuring that pharmacies and other healthcare facilities meet patients’ communications needs, as required by state and federal law.Effective communication between customers and pharmacy staff is critical to patients understanding the effects of medications and potential drug interactions.”
KPH Healthcare Services operates 101 Kinney Drugs pharmacies, 77 of which are located in 19 counties across upstate New York, including Cayuga, Clinton, Cortland, Essex, Franklin, Herkimer, Jefferson, Lewis, Madison, Montgomery, Oneida, Onondaga, Oswego, Otsego, St. Lawrence, Seneca, Tompkins, Warren, and Wayne counties. Hearing loss is one of the most common conditions affecting elderly individuals, who also make more frequent use of pharmacies, and upstate New York is home to a substantial population of seniors. According to U.S. Census estimates, more than 700,000 New Yorkers are either deaf or have serious difficulty hearing.
In cooperation with the Attorney General’s Office, KPH Healthcare Services agreed to improve its policies to ensure that pharmacists and other staff communicate effectively with individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing. In addition to expanding access to communication aids and services, including assistive listening systems and qualified sign-language interpreters, as required by law, KPH Healthcare Services also agreed to new protocols for evaluating and meeting the needs of individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing, and improved procedures for training, recordkeeping and investigation of complaints. KPH Healthcare Services will also pay $30,000 to Onondaga County to support programs that benefit individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing and other individuals with disabilities.
This agreement is part of the Attorney General’s initiative to ensure equal access for individuals with disabilities at places of public accommodation in New York State. Previous agreements ensuring communications accessibility for deaf and hard-of-hearing New Yorkers include agreements with hospitals and other healthcare facilities and theatres. As part of this initiative, the Civil Rights Bureau is also assessing communications accessibility at other pharmacy chains in New York.
Janice S. Lintz, hearing accessibility advocate, said, “This is a game changer. When communication barriers in healthcare settings are removed, customers who are deaf and hard of hearing can decide on healthcare treatment options in a more equitable and timely manner. This agreement helps to ensure that persons who are deaf and hard of hearing are able to engage in meaningful counseling and consultation with pharmacists about medications and other important health issues. No one should have to ask permission to receive important and critical healthcare information.”