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Nursing home repeatedly hung up on deaf woman, attorney general says

Nicole Perkins, a caseworker at St. Joseph’s University Medical Center in Paterson, is deaf and was calling Atrium in May 2016 to get medical records for a client, who is also deaf.

Officials said Perkins used a video relay service, called Purple Communications, to place her call. The service allows deaf and hard-of-hearing callers to communicate using videophones, with sign-language interpreters.

To use Purple, a deaf caller connects with an operator via FaceTime or text message. The operator then calls an intended recipient — in this case, Atrium — and relays the conversation to the deaf caller.

Perkins told state investigators that on her first try, the operator reported that a man answered the phone at Atrium but refused to accept the call, saying, “I’m not responsible,” before he hung up.

The operator called four more times within 10 minutes, officials said, but the same man refused the calls and would not give his name.

Officials said state investigators later obtained phone records from Purple, confirming the operator’s attempts to reach Atrium.

Further investigation found that Atrium employees, including two receptionists, do not know how to answer calls assisted by relay services. Officials said another worker allegedly told investigators he answers the nursing home’s phone when receptionists take breaks and that he might have hung up on what he thought was a robocall.

Officials issued a finding of probable cause in April, saying they were “concerned” about such a lack of awareness.

In a five-page finding, the director of the state Division on Civil Rights, Craig Sashihara, wrote that Atrium’s failure to accept relay calls from Perkins “prevented [her] from performing her job” at St. Joseph’s.

Atrium now must educate all employees on the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, officials said. That training must teach them how to field calls from relay services.