As has been posted several times on the Center for Accessible Living’s website, on August 12th, Disability Rights Advocates filed a class action lawsuit against First Urology, based in Louisville. The lawsuit was filed on the behalf of individual plaintiffs Elizabeth Fust, David Allgood and Marcus Gray and organizational plaintiff, the Center for Accessible Living (CAL), over the medical practice’s policy of refusing to help patients with disabilities transfer from wheelchairs or other mobility devices to examination tables and diagnostic equipment. The policy violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and other disability rights laws.
Plaintiff Elizabeth Fust, a wheelchair user, picked First Urology as her urological provider because of its reputation for providing high quality care and the convenience of the Market Street location in downtown Louisville. She chose her physician at First Urology due to his reputation and expertise in performing a highly specialized and complicated urological surgery that she had undergone and that requires ongoing care and potential revision.
In September of 2019, Ms. Fust saw her urologist at the Market Street office. The First Urology physician prescribed a CT scan to schedule immediately, which her physician advised could be performed by First Urology at that office. At that same appointment, she spoke with a First Urology staff scheduler to schedule the CT scan at the Market Street location. She was asked if she was a “full lift” or if she could transfer herself to the CT scanner table. After Ms. Fust said she would need assistance in transferring, she was told First Urology did not assist patients with transfer and was handed a “Lifting Policy” issued by First Urology. She was advised to go to a non-First Urology provider that could assist her to receive a CT scan.
The policy she was handed stated, in part, “Patients who require assistance with transfers from a wheelchair to a commode chair or an examination table must comply with the following guidelines:
- If the patient is non-weight bearing and requires total assistance, either a family member or staff members from the facility where the patient is currently residing must accompany the patient and carry-out the lifting of the patient.”
Because of this policy, Ms. Fust was forced to schedule the CT scan at a hospital outpatient facility, causing inconvenience, additional travel time, and a long wait at the hospital. In addition, she had to take a compact disc of the CT scan to review with her to the First Urology physician at a separate appointment. If Ms. Fust did not have a disability, she would have had all this done at the facility of her choice, First Urology’s Market Street Office.
Ms. Fust and her counsel made a few attempts to resolve the issue by written requests with no satisfaction. She also submitted a complaint to the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights in February of 2020. With no resolution in sight, the lawsuit was filed in August with the United States District Court for the Western District of Kentucky. As stated in the lawsuit, “requiring a patient with a disability to bring a friend, family member, or other person, or related medical equipment, to their private medical appointment to provide transfer assistance is discriminatory, demeaning, inconvenient, and unlawful.” The lawsuit seeks no monetary damages, only the lifting of the “Lifting Policy” by First Urology.
CAL joined the lawsuit as an “organizational plaintiff’ out of concern for the constituency it serves, individuals with disabilities. CAL’s consumers and potential consumers are negatively impacted by the actions of First Urology. As David Allgood, CAL’s Director of Advocacy, explains CAL’s involvement: “We are a center for independent living attempting to ensure that people with disabilities can live as independently as possible in the community or a setting of their choice. We believe that all areas of the community should be fully accessible and inclusive of all its citizens especially those with disabilities. This is particularly true for healthcare providers as many people with disabilities need to use their services quite frequently. People with disabilities should not be prevented from accessing any areas in medical facilities just because they happen to use a mobility device or need assistance with transfers.”
At this point, it might be helpful to know a bit more about First Urology PSC. According to their website, First Urology is “the largest urologic provider in the greater Louisville and Southern Indiana area.” The website says they have 22 offices in the Kentuckiana area, but it does not appear to be updated frequently. Only 20 facilities are listed on the website. The company has 302 employees (according to the Louisville Business First website, Oct. 6, 2020). Their mission statement is: “At First Urology, we’re dedicated to providing our community with quality, convenient care for a wide variety of urological conditions.” Apparently, the care is “convenient” only if you do not have a mobility disability.
The website also says First Urology has “State-of-the-art CT scans and MRIs,” “is dedicated to incorporating state-of-the-art technology to aid in patient diagnosis, treatment and comfort,” and has physicians ‘experienced in utilizing the latest in equipment and procedures to provide their patients with superior care.” All of that sounds great if its patients have access to that technology, equipment, and the experience in using it. But that does not seem to be the case if you have a mobility impairment and you can’t get yourself on a table to use some of that equipment.
Here are a few more things to know about First Urology. According to data provided on the Louisville Business First Magazine website dated October 6, 2020, First Urology’s revenue in 2019 was $70,874,000. In 2018, it was $60,185,000; in 2017, $53,500,000. It is a company that is obviously experiencing healthy growth, 17.8% growth in 2019 alone. This begs the question: why not just purchase the necessary equipment to provide full access to individuals with disabilities?