Raleigh, NC: On February 4, 2015, Natishia Sanderson sued the dental office of Bruce Tripp, DDS, PA and the NC Department of Health and Human Services. Ms. Sanderson is deaf and requested that Dr. Tripp provide a sign language interpreter during her dental appointment. Federal law requires Dr. Tripp to provide an effective means of communication with his patients. Dr. Tripp told Ms. Sanderson to hire her own interpreter, otherwise he and his staff would communicate with her in writing. Ms. Sanderson had seen a previous dentist without an interpreter, but it was an ineffective method of communication resulting in her suffering through unnecessary pain.

Ms. Sanderson is a participant in the Medicaid program, which is overseen by the State of North Carolina. The State has an obligation to ensure that individuals with disabilities are not discriminated against by Medicaid providers. This obligation requires the State to accept, investigate, and resolve complaints of discrimination on the basis of disability. Ms. Sanderson filed a complaint with the State against Dr. Tripp almost a year ago without resolution.

“We all expect to communicate with our doctor about our health concerns,” said Vicki Smith, Executive Director of Disability Rights North Carolina. “For deaf individuals like Ms. Sanderson whose native language is American Sign Language, interpreters often are necessary to ensure that the patient completely understands their condition and treatment. The failure to hire an ASL interpreter puts both the patient and the doctor at risk.”

The lawsuit seeks to hold Dr. Tripp accountable for his violations of Ms. Sanderson’s rights, and seeks to enforce the State’s federal obligation to ensure the accessibility of publicly-funded healthcare services. Ms. Sanderson is represented by Attorney Holly Stiles at Disability Rights NC.