Part of the UNC Hospitals complex at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Part of the UNC Hospitals complex at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

UNC

UNC Health will pay a $125,000 settlement to two blind patients who said the system did not provide billing and health information in Braille or any other accessible format.

In the lawsuit, two men, Disability Rights NC and the National Federation of the Blind argued the system violated federal disability laws by failing to communicate as effectively with blind patients as it does with non-disabled patients.

“Failing to put the information in formats accessible to them not only violates the law, it impermissibly endangers their health,” Virginia Knowlton Marcus, CEO of Disability Rights NC said in a statement Thursday announcing the settlement.

The settlement came after U.S. Magistrate Judge Patrick Auld recommended in January that the state-owned health system be held liable for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The health system, which has hospitals and clinics across the state, has defended its efforts to provide accommodations to sight-impaired patients.

“UNC Health is committed to providing excellent and equitable care for all of our patients and their families,” said spokesperson Alan Wolf.

One of the plaintiffs, John Bone, said when received emergency care in 2016 and 2017 at Nash General Hospital, a UNC Health affiliate, he told hospital staff that he was blind and would need his medical bills in Braille.

He said the Rocky Mount hospital instead sent initial, second and final bills in standard print, which he could not read. Because he did not know how much he owed, Bone said he accrued late fees and was referred to collection agencies, which called him frequently, including at night, the complaint against UNC says.

Timothy Miles, another plaintiff, similarly asked several UNC Health providers to provide large-print versions of his medical documents so that he could read follow-up instructions at home. All of the providers refused to accommodate this he request, he alleged.

“Some providers have offered to read documents aloud,” the plaintiff’s complaint read. “He does not want to be forced to memorize all of the information contained in these documents.”

Other UNC health employees summarized information in his medical documents with speech, which Miles felt did not give him the same information a seeing person would have by reading the forms.

The health system also mailed Miles standard-print bills, despite him asking for large print versions. The billing department allegedly told him that “its medical billing system does not allow for large print billing statements”.

The advocacy groups will continue to bring litigation against UNC Health to force them to make policy changes that will make it in compliance with federal disability laws, a press release from the DRNC and the NFB said.

Teddy Rosenbluth covers science for The News & Observer in a position funded by Duke Health and the Burroughs Wellcome Fund. She has covered science and health care for Los Angeles Magazine, the Santa Monica Daily Press, and the Concord Monitor. Her investigative reporting has brought her everywhere from the streets of Los Angeles to the hospitals of New Delhi. She graduated from UCLA with a bachelor’s degree in psychobiology.