Program helps deaf patients

The deaf access program at Mount Sinai Hospital started 10 years ago. It is one of the largest comprehensive health care networks in the country for people who are deaf and hard of hearing.

Terri Heading is the program manager.

"We have approximately 1,300 patients in our system right now, and we have an average of 20 to 25 deaf people coming in the hospital daily," said Heading.

Being able to communicate with deaf patients is one thing, understanding deaf culture is another, especially for physicians like Dr. Gary Kaufman.

'To make the diagnosis when communication is barriered because it's not clear, the patient doesn't understand the doctor, the doctor doesn't understand the patients. Then what happens is the doctor gets misinformation or wrong information which can lead to the wrong diagnosis," said Kaufman.

Understanding your doctor is very important.

"When I'm dealing with a patient who, for the first time after going to doctors for many years says, 'Wow, I really get this, now I understand why the other doctor is giving me medicines, why they told me to take these medicines every day," said Kaufman.

The deaf access program also has sign language interpreters on staff.

"We keep growing yearly, our expectations are that we will have more patients and we will continue to grow," said Heading.

Last year, Mount Sinai became one of the first health centers to install the video phone booth.

"We decided to set up the VRS booth because I see the need for our patients to make calls, especially if their family or friends or maybe they're sick or many they're in a car accident, how can they call their friends and family," said Heading.

Patients like Kikamona couldn't be happier.

'I had a friend told me that there was a doctor who signed here and his name was Dr. Kaufman. And I'm like, 'I never heard about it, a doctor who knows sign language?' Doctors just write back and forth between with me, and I never understand them," she said. "So I came over to Mt. Sinai, and he signed. I was flabbergasted, I'm like, 'Oh my God, he signs? Can I get appointment?"

Deaf Access Program has three physicians who are fluent in sign language. To learn more about Mount Sinai's Deaf Access Program visit or call 773.257.6289 - TTY or 773.257.5125 - voice.

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