Natishia Sanderson is deaf. When she went to the dental office of Bruce Tripp, DSS, PA, she asked for a sign language interpreter. Dr. Tripp refused, saying she would have to hire her own interpreter or that he would communicate with her in writing. But Natishia had previously seen a dentist without an interpreter, and the communication barrier had resulted in her suffering through unnecessary pain.

Dr. Tripp was in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. As a place of public accommodation (a business generally open to the public), his office is required to provide an effective means of communication to patients with disabilities.

But there was a larger problem. Natishia is covered by Medicaid, and under federal regulations, the NC Department of Health and Human Services (the state’s Medicaid agency) must ensure that its providers do not discriminate based on disability. Natishia tried to file a grievance with the NC DHHS, but nothing happened. She tried multiple times to get an adequate response, but all of her efforts were unsuccessful.

Disability Rights NC filed suit against both Dr. Tripp and NC DHHS. In the agreement settling the case, Dr. Tripp paid monetary damages to Natishia. In addition, the agreement required NC DHHS to adopt grievance procedures and to promptly and equitably resolve complaints of disability-based discrimination in the Medicaid program.