The Hunts feel that it is important to continue sharing their experiences with the birth of their two children, which shows stark differences in the quality of medical services across two separate hospitals in Florida. Terry Hunt is profoundly deaf and Rebekah Hunt is hearing with ASL fluency, who has had prior interpreting experience. The Hunts had their first child, Asher, at Tampa General Hospital and their second child, Ava, followed two years later at Morton Plant Hospital.
Ideally, the hospital or birthing center expectant parents choose to trust for the delivery of their child would have all the following:
- at least one full-time certified ASL staff interpreter available for in-person, live services at all times;
- the ability to hire certified ASL interpreters for regular and/or after hours as needed from the parents’ preferred interpreting services agency, in the event that the said on-staff interpreter is not available for in-person, live services;
- allow the parents to have direct contact with their preferred interpreting services agency via text and/or videophone number, in the event the parents need to rush to the hospital for delivery;
- have a certified ASL interpreter in the delivery room or the operating room with the parents, when it’s time to deliver the baby; and
- have a video relay interpreting device ready in mint condition with top-notch internet signals as the absolute last resort.
All the above was exactly what happened for the Hunts at Morton Plant Hospital. Outstanding communication access was provided from start to finish, enabling the Hunts to stay fully present in the moment, celebrate the birth of their baby, and recover without any complications. The smooth delivery and hospital stay for Ava does not, in any way, compensate for what the Hunts went through with Asher’s birth.
Tampa General Hospital took away the joy of giving birth and becoming new parents for the first time from the Hunts. Over two and half years later, Tampa General Hospital’s deep disregard for medical ethics and communication access still stands out as a traumatic experience for the Hunts.
The Hunts’ first visit at Tampa General Hospital was for a tour of the premises and from the get-go, concerns were brought up. Rebekah inquired about having interpreters for Terry while she is in labor. The response? “You won’t because he is not the patient.” Rebekah followed up with another question: “What if it was a life-threatening situation where I am incapacitated or would not able to make a decision, and my husband has to make the call quickly? You would have communication issues with Terry.” Just about everyone present at the tour was floored to hear what came next from the tour guide: “Let’s hope we don’t go that route.”
The Hunts thought that Tampa General Hospital would at least provide video relay interpreters if in-person, live interpreters were not possible, and they inquired about VRI services as a possibility—only to receive a “no.” One of the nurses even went so far as to say, “We have that thing for the deaf, and we don’t know where it is. It has taken up a lot of room, and it was put away in one of the closets somewhere.
Rebekah was rushed to Tampa General Hospital twice and both times the Hunts’ pleas for interpreters, live or video remote, were flat out denied. Once labor began, Rebekah was admitted to the hospital. The Hunts hoped that interpreters would be provided for Rebekah’s delivery and post-birth recovery and, once again, none of the medical or administrative personnel honored their needs.
For the first 48+ hours of labor, Rebekah was not 100% there—she was medicated, exhausted, and in considerable pain. How could she possibly be “all there,” when it was taking all she had just to get through? Doctors and nurses came in and out of the Hunts’ room, talking directly to Rebekah while Terry sat in the corner. Terry was ignored and left out, with no choice but to intermittently ask his wife: “What are they saying? What did they say?” Frustrated, Rebekah tried to catch Terry up the best she could with what she recalled was going on.
It was the third morning of the hospital stay and both expectant parents were asleep, when the delivery team stormed into their room and startled them awake. Medical personnel surrounded the bed and Rebekah found herself struggling between the overlapping fast dialogue and knowing Terry was completely clueless. Rebekah was not able to tell Terry what was going on, and she yelled at the nurses to fill Terry in right as she was being wheeled out to the operating room. A nurse approached Terry, handed him surgical scrubs, and left without a word as Terry stood there, stunned and confused.
Terry found his way into the operating room and saw his wife on the operating table, heavily sedated. The surgical delivery team repeatedly addressed Terry during the emergency cesarean section surgery and Terry had to continually insist that he could not understand any of them with the masks covering their mouths. One nurse eventually took her mask off for Terry to read her lips, but Terry was still missing out on so much. None of the personnel bothered to explain to Terry what prompted the emergency c-section. Several hours later, Terry finally got his answer when Rebekah was close to full recovery: Asher’s heart rate had dropped so low that he would not survive being delivered naturally.
It was only right before the discharge process that any of Tampa General Hospital’s personnel even tried to provide communication access. The discharge physician had a device brought into the Hunts’ room for video remote interpreting services. Several times during the discharge process, Rebekah caught the on-screen interpreter signing out commentary that the physician never said and had to correct the interpreter each time. No alternative was offered for communication access after repeated statements from the interpreter that they could not hear or understand the physician. The cord was not long enough for the VRI device to be moved closer to the physician or Rebekah’s bed, and the VRI device had to stay plugged in the entire time. Unplugging the VRI device would have resulted in poor video quality, as the wi-fi signal was not strong enough.
Rebekah was burdened yet again with the responsibility of communication access for her husband that was not hers to take on. In frustration, Rebekah asked for the physician to turn off the VRI device and went on to interpret for Terry. The Hunts just wanted to get it over with so they could go home and decompress.
Terry Hunt stated that Morton Plant Hospital would be the family’s preferred hospital of choice if a third child is planned. This September marks three years since the ordeal. Has Tampa General Hospital learned from it and taken corrective actions as appropriate? At this time, it looks like a “no.”
Not once has Tampa General Hospital voluntarily contacted the Hunt family to:
- ask for honest feedback on the quality of their services;
- to acknowledge that their personnel violated Terry’s rights to have interpreters as protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Affordable Care Act;
- to furnish a sincere apology for the nightmare the family endured; or
- to even inform them that the standard operating protocols and procedures would incorporate the regular use of interpreting services, including mandatory annual training for all new and existing employees.
If anything, Tampa General Hospital wants to save face—they told the Hunts to take their story down. The Hunts were reprimanded just for being transparent with their fellow Deaf community members in sharing their personal experiences and asking for improvements.
Let this serve as a clear reminder for all health care sites in the state of Florida and all other states of their legal and ethical responsibility to provide certified, qualified interpreters in person when specifically requested (video relay interpreters only as a last resort). The Deaf community cannot and will not tolerate being deprived of what is rightfully theirs: communication access in their native languages. Healthcare providers’ denial of requested interpreters has, and it could, cost lives.
Terry is available to support community members in the prevention of language barriers that may occur during any medical or business visit. Terry is the president of It’s a Deaf Thing and can be reached directly by e-mail at Terry.Hunt@ItsaDeafThing.com.