Wednesday, December 27, 2006
By Alan Lopez
CONTRA COSTA TIMES
Kaiser Foundation Health Plan has been found in civil contempt of court for failing to meet the terms of a consent decree requiring its Oakland hospital to be more accessible to the disabled.
A decision reached Dec. 1 by U.S. Magistrate Judge Joseph Spero says Kaiser failed to comply or show it made all reasonable efforts to meet deadlines associated with the consent decree that stemmed from an Alameda man's lawsuit against the giant health care provider.
Kaiser signed the decree following the lawsuit brought against it by John Mannick, a disabled man who stayed at Kaiser's Oakland hospital for a week in 2003 and found that the bathrooms were inaccessible to people in wheelchairs.
"In particular," the decision says, "from the time of the execution of the consent decree, through at least March of this year, defendants repeatedly failed to comply with the timeline required under the decree. They failed also to notify plaintiff at all, during this period, of the delay or the causes for the delay.
"In addition," the decision notes, "at present time, defendants are in continuing violation of the requirement for an accessible ramp at an accessible patient discharge area."
In a statement, Kaiser said it was committed to doing all of the work outlined in the consent decree. Kaiser also claims to have completed all of the work in the consent decree except for an access ramp.
"The work completed includes an accessible room on the 6th floor ... and work related to parking spaces, entrances, 'paths of travel' and signage," according to Kaiser's statement. "We have agreed to complete the access ramp and accessible facilities on each of our four other medical surgical floors."
On Monday, U.S. District Judge Phyllis J. Hamilton signed an order adopting the Dec. 1 report and recommendation, which says Kaiser will be required to participate in compliance hearings in front of a magistrate judge every four months until all of the required work is completed.
At Kaiser's request, the order also gives the hospital more time to construct accessible patient rooms on the eighth floor and accessible restrooms/roll-in showers on the seventh, ninth and 10th floors.
Kaiser will be required to acquire all permits immediately, but the work will be done in two six-month phases to reduce the number of beds temporarily out of service during construction, according to the court decision.
Mannick, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1982, has said he was shocked to find that the hospital lacked any accessible patient rooms and bathrooms, equipment such as lift slings to help patients in and out of bed and roll-in showers to accommodate people with wheelchairs.
The Americans with Disabilities Act, passed in 1990, requires businesses to have accessible facilities, services and parking for disabled people.
Mannick filed suit against Kaiser in December 2003. A jury trial was avoided after Mannick settled out of court for damages in August.
Reached by phone this week, he offered little comment.
"As soon as all the issues are dealt with," he said, "then I'll talk about it."
Mannick's attorney, Paul Rein, said various sanctions could have been levied against Kaiser as a result of it being in contempt of court. But he said the purpose was not to "damage" Kaiser.
"Our primary purpose is to make the premises accessible for disabled persons as soon as possible," said Rein, who specializes in disability access litigation. "We have no way of knowing how many other people may be affected."
One person affected was Jana Overbow, 44, of Oakland, who has rheumatoid arthritis and was hospitalized at Kaiser Oakland Hospital for eight days in July.
In a Sept. 29 declaration in support of Rein's motion to enforce the consent decree, Overbow made a statement saying that she had not been asked about her needs as a disabled person and was distressed to find that no accessible restrooms were made available to her.
Reach Alan Lopez at 510-748-1659 or e-mail email@example.com.