It is 1 o’clock Saturday morning and the police have just arrived with a middle aged man to book into jail for an assault that took place in the city an hour ago. He has abrasions on his face, neck and hands; he is observant and seems compliant with the officers’ instructions. Custody staff complete booking and he is brought to medical for intake health screening. The officer tells the nurse that the man is deaf. The nurse writes on a notepad “Can you read and write?” The detainee nods his head affirmatively. The nurse puts the intake screening form in front of the detainee and points to each question on the form. The detainee nods his head in a “no” gesture to each of the screening questions. The nurse takes vital signs, examines the abrasions, applies a bactericidal ointment and then observes the detainee while he is changing into the jail uniform. His deafness and abrasions are noted; no other problems are identified by the nurse and the detainee is given a handbook that explains how to access health care when he is released to housing.
Did this nursing encounter meet the standard of care for persons in correctional settings who are deaf or hard of hearing?
The components of receiving screening defined by the American Corrections Association (ACA) and the National Commission on Correctional Health Care (NCCHC) are that a screening form is used to inquire about the status of each detainee’s health and that reception personnel observe the detainee’s condition for signs of illness or injury before making decisions about disposition. NCCHC also states in the discussion of the standard that “Receiving screening is conducted using a form and language fully understood by the inmate, who may not speak English or may have a physical (e.g., speech, hearing, sight) or mental disability” (2014, page 72). The nurse modified how the receiving screening data was collected when the detainee indicated that he could read and write. Literally interpreted the accreditation standards were met. But were best practices used to screen for potential emergency situations, treating illness or continuing prescribed medication?
The Americans with Disabilities Act passed in 1990 establishes specific requirements that apply to persons who are deaf or hard of hearing in correctional settings. These include:
- Giving primary consideration to providing the aid or service requested by the person with the hearing disability.
- Communication aids and services may not be denied except when a particular aid or service would result in an undue burden or a fundamental change in the nature of the law enforcement services being provided.
- Only the head of the agency or his or her designee can make the determination that a particular aid or service would cause an undue burden or a fundamental change in the nature of the law enforcement services being provided.
- Not charging for communication aids or services provided.
- Providing effective, accurate, and impartial interpreters when needed.
In this case the nurse did not inquire about the type of communication aid or service the detainee preferred but instead only asked if the detainee could read and write. Relying on writing or pointing to items is effective communication for brief and relatively simple face-to-face conversations. Having the detainee fill out the health history portion of the intake screening form may be appropriate if he is literate enough in medical terminology. While many who are deaf and hard of hearing indicate the ability to read lips nurses need to be cognizant that only about 30% of what is said can be accurately interpreted (Shuler et. al., 2013). If the detainee indicates he has any medical or mental health problems, is seeing a provider in the community or is taking medication the nurse will have to use a more interactive and accurate communication method. These include:
Sign language interpreters: There are several kinds of sign language, including American Sign Language (ASL) and Signed English. When arranging for an interpreter be sure to ask what form of sign language the detainee uses.
Oral and cued speech interpreters: Some individuals have been trained in lip reading and with assistance from an interpreter can understand spoken words fairly well.
Transcription services: Many people who are deaf or hard of hearing are not trained in either sign language or speech reading. There are several types of devices that allow a person who is deaf or hard of hearing to communicate by typing. These include Computer Assisted Real-time Transcription (CART) and text telephone (TTY or TTD).
Video services: use high speed internet and wireless connections to link a camera or videophone that transmits sign language to an interpreter who conveys the message verbally to the hearing person.
Each state defines the education and training required to be considered a qualified interpreter and may also require certification. Since the ADA requires that interpreters in correctional settings be effective, accurate, and impartial special care should be taken in arranging for interpreters. Using staff who “know sign language” or family members to interpret may not meet these criteria. Further the nurse needs to document in the detainee health record what effort was made to inquire about communication preferences, arrangements made to provide assistance and if an interpreter is used document their name, certification or qualification and contact information.
The detainee in this example was scheduled to be seen by a nurse the following day to review the intake screening information and complete the history portion of the initial health assessment. Correctional staff at booking inquired about the detainee’s communication preferences and had noted in the classification system that he used American Sign Language (ASL). The nurse was aware of this and made arrangements for the presence of a qualified interpreter at the nursing encounter the next day. The ADA does not require that the services of an interpreter be immediately available at intake for example but that arrangements are made in a reasonable amount of time when they are necessary.
Best practices summary
• Before speaking, get the person’s attention with a wave of the hand or a gentle tap on the shoulder.
• Face the person and do not turn away while speaking.
• Try to converse in a well-lit area.
• Do not cover your mouth or chew gum.
• Minimize background noise and other distractions whenever possible.
• When you are communicating orally, speak slowly and distinctly. Use gestures and facial expressions to reinforce what you are saying.
• Use visual aids when possible, such as pointing to printed information or photos.
• When using an interpreter, look at and speak directly to the deaf person, not to the interpreter.
- Talk at your normal rate, or slightly slower if you normally speak very fast.
- Only one person should speak at a time.
- Use short sentences and simple words (U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Disability Rights January 2006).
It is estimated that up to nine percent of the population has some degree of hearing loss, and this percentage will increase as the population ages. So as correctional nurses, we expect to come into contact with people who are deaf or hard of hearing. In your opinion was the standard of care met in the intake screening and assessment of this detainee’s health status? What are the challenges in providing nursing care for detainees who are deaf or hard of hearing? Please share your opinions and experience by responding in the comments section of this post.
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American Corrections Association. (2010). 2010 Standards Supplement. Alexandria, VA.: American Corrections Association.
National Commission on Correctional Health Care. (Prisons and Jails 20014). Standards for Health Services. National Commission on Correctional Health Care.
Shuler, G.K; Mistler, L.A.; Torrey, K.; Depukat, R. (2013). Bridging communication gaps with the deaf. Nursing 2013 43 (11): 24-30.
U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Disability Rights. (January 2006). Communicating with People Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing: ADA Guide for Law Enforcement Officers. Accessed June 16, 2014 at http://www.ada.gov/lawenfcomm.htm.
U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Disability Rights. (October 2003). ADA Business BRIEF: Communicating with People Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing in Hospital Settings. Accessed June 16, 2014 at http://www.ada.gov/hospcombr.htm.
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