For the past year I have followed the progress of House Bill 1956 regarding effective communication for deaf and hard-of-hearing patients in Virginia. I personally had experienced the lack of professional interpreting services available for my mother, who is deaf, during an overnight hospital stay at Augusta Health.
Initial efforts to resolve this issue were lost by Augusta Health patient advocacy. As months passed and I talked with others in our deaf community, it pained me to learn that communication barriers and lack of respect for the specific needs of deaf patients are all too common.
Some hope for change came as I learned of HB1956. I wanted to know how to get involved as someone directly affected. Through persistence and connections from friends at church, I found out about Virginia Organizing. As the bill went into effect this past July, friends, family, members of the deaf community, and I attended the local Virginia Organizing chapter meetings. From a grassroots level we brainstormed ways to raise awareness.
By October our chapter had the good fortune to make some connections with the director of the Virginia Department for the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing to learn more about this issue. Through these connections, I have the great privilege of serving on the stakeholder panel as a volunteer with Virginia Organizing and am taking part in the guideline developments of HB1956.
Locally, after months of our effort we finally gained the attention of Augusta Health. Our group met with vice president Kathleen Heatwole, risk manager Beth Chadwell, and several other department chiefs and managers. All our issues and concerns were taken to heart and an extensive list of improvements was proposed by them at our December chapter meeting. I am feeling good about the progress we are making.
I couldn’t have fully envisioned how one painful, personal experience could lead to growing and bonding with others to move toward positive, lasting change. I encourage the larger deaf community, friends, family, and loved ones to get involved. Come to our Virginia Organizing chapter meetings and Town Hall meetings. Now is the time to be heard.