Miami Herald, 5/19/01

By James McNair

Tenet Healthcare Corp., the nation's second-biggest hospital chain, has agreed to settle a class-action suit by making all 111 of its acute-care centers more accessible to disabled people.

The settlement was reached with Access Now, a Miami Beach disability-rights group that sued Tenet in l998 for violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act. It was approved by U.S. District Judge Alan S. Gold in Miami.

"I think you have achieved something here that is unique and precedential for those who are looking to deal with these types of issues in the future," Gold said at the hearing, "and I have to assume that will occur fairly often."

The deal calls for Tenet to tailor compliance plans for each of 15 to 20 hospitals per year, each subject to Gold's approval.

The modifications must make facilities more accessible to people with physical, vision and hearing impairments. And Tenet must make its network of hospitals 100 percent ADA-compliant in 7 to 10 years.

Tenet owns 12 hospitals in South Florida. Among them: Coral Gables Hospital, Palmetto General, Parkway Regional, Hollywood Medical Center and West Boca Medical Center.

"Most of the patient rooms already meet most of the standards," said Tenet spokesman Harry Anderson from the company's headquarters in Santa Barbara, Calif. "We're doing a lot of work in public areas like restrooms, waiting rooms and elevators which were not up to standard."

Changes, he said, include replacing door knobs with handles, adding Braille on elevator control panels and installing strobe lights to accompany fire alarms.

Access Now President Edward Resnick commended Tenet.

"Tenet has become a model on which others can base their own efforts to extend accessible care to millions of disabled Americans," he said. "Together, we are doing good for many people."

David Marko, a lawyer for Access America, said ADA lawsuits are pending against other hospital groups in Florida, including Baptist Health Systems in Miami and Martin Memorial Health Systems in Stuart.

"A hospital is either accessible or it's not. It's either usable or it's not," Marko said. "And if you have no ramp entrance, a person who happens to be in a wheelchair may not be able to get in at all."

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