Kaiser Permanente to Improve Access for the Disabled
In a move that could "dramatically change the way hospitals and clinics" treat people with disabilities, Kaiser Permanente yesterday announced plans to revamp its California facilities to make them more accessible, as part of an agreement to settle a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of three patients who use wheelchairs, the Los Angeles Times reports. Filed in July by Disability Rights Advocates, an Oakland-based not-for-profit law center, the suit said patients faced "pervasive barriers" at Kaiser facilities (Glionna, Los Angeles Times, 4/13). The complaint listed numerous problems at Kaiser facilities, including "too small examination rooms, doors too heavy to open from a wheelchair ... inaccessible restrooms, lack of nearby parking" (Lewin, New York Times, 4/13). Under the settlement, Kaiser will implement a "12-point program" to address the problems at its facilities throughout California. While declining to speculate on costs, Kaiser officials said the plans include hiring consultants to oversee access and health care surveys, removing "architectural barriers" and installing "critical diagnostic" equipment. In addition, Kaiser staff members, including doctors and nurses, will receive sensitivity training to help them better assist people with disabilities. The reform plan also will establish a complaint system, and the disabled community will provide Kaiser with continuing advice. Kaiser facilities in Riverside and San Francisco will operate as "living laboratories" to implement the changes, which will eventually occur at all of the company's clinics and facilities over the next two to five years. Sid Wolinsky, director of litigation for the advocacy group, said that within a week of filing the suit, Kaiser officials met with the organization to "hammer out" details to improve the facilities. Wolinsky said, "Never in 40 years of litigation have I seen a company of this size react so swiftly and constructively to problems once they were pointed out. We had dialogue instead of depositions."
Wolinsky added that the settlement would serve as a "wake-up call" to the medical community nationwide that lawsuits could follow if treatment of people with disabilities does not improve (Los Angeles Times, 4/13). Richard Pettingill, president of Kaiser's California division, said, "[A]s the bar goes higher for Kaiser Permanente, the bar goes higher for the rest of the health care industry in California and the nation" (Anderson, Contra Costa Times, 4/13). Rick Wade, senior vice president of the American Hospital Association, agreed, saying, "Any time a giant like Kaiser initiates something like this, it's going to be noticed by its competitors. A lot of places are going to take a closer look at their internal processes and say, 'We did some things 10 years ago with the Americans with Disabilities Act, but let's look again'" (Los Angeles Times, 4/13).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.