Class-action lawsuit challenges Bronx community health center

man in wheelchair at bottom of steps, with his head in his hands
Barriers to Health Care

Like thousands of other middle and low-income individuals in the South Bronx, Rodolfo Diaz visited Union Community Health Center in October 2014.

Obstacles sprung up almost immediately. Upon entering the facility, he had difficulty navigating many of the facility’s doorways and hallways, as they were too narrow for him to comfortably maneuver his wheelchair.

Upon reaching the fifth floor reception area, Diaz encountered a reception desk too high for him to make eye level contact with facility staff. He asked the receptionist if the center would accommodate him as he sought treatment.

The receptionist allegedly said no, informing him that he needed to bring another companion with him for assistance. The center’s staff provided no further guidance.

On July 29, Bronx Independent Living Services filed a federal class-action lawsuit [PDF] on behalf of Diaz and a class of other people with various physical disabilities whom have been discriminated against by the UCHC. Disability Rights Advocates is representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

“UCHC has disregarded our requests to provide accessible services,” BILS Executive Director Brett Eisenberg said in a news release. “Such practices limit the disability community’s access to essential health care services in an area that is already underserved.”

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, alleges a variety of claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and applicable state and city laws.

Among the other violations alleged in the complaint, the facility’s pharmacy can only be reached by ascending a flight of stairs, effectively putting it out of reach for most wheelchair users.

The center allegedly lacks sign language interpreters, choosing to rely entirely on video remote interpreting services. Written materials are unavailable in accessible formats, forcing patients to compromise their privacy by having companions reading the materials out loud in the waiting room.

There is no publicly available reasonable accommodations policy.

“By failing to make its programs and services accessible to patients with disabilities, UCHC perpetuates a two-tiered system of health care, whereby people with disabilities receive substandard, inferior medical treatment, which jeopardizes their health and well-being,” the lawsuit states.

UCHC serves an estimated 37,000 patients per year at five locations across the Bronx.