Part 1 of COVID-19 for the Deaf/Hard of Hearing: How Hospitals Work

Plan ahead for healthcare

Please see our companion guide on how communicate in the hospital setting if you are deaf or hard of hearing. You may also see our recorded webinars for oral and spoken language or sign language users.

Before going to the hospital

Have a plan in place before you get sick. Being prepared ahead of time is key. In an epidemic, the hospital can be overwhelming. You may be in a temporary isolation tent or placed in a hallway. You may not have access to communication tools that you usually get. Again, being prepared ahead of time is key. Make a plan with your family if you’re not ready.

First, see our guide on COVID-19. Second, become familiar with your doctor’s office to decrease confusion in case you need them. Contact your doctor’s office ahead of time. For hard of hearing people who If you use the phone to call in become familiar with their phone menu. Use a Video Relay Service for ASL or text-based relay service, with or without Voice Carry Over (VCO) such as SprintIP if needed. To save time and frustration, see if the office will give you a direct line to their nurse. Many offices now have smartphone apps or online webpages to bypass the telephone and contact their office directly. Check your doctor's website to see if they have a MyChart or MyHealth login.


At the hospital

If you must go to the hospital, you may experience some communication frustrations. Follow this checklist to help:

  • If at all possible, bring a friend or loved one to act as your advocate. It helps if this person has medical knowledge.
  • Bring things with you if you will stay at the hospital (smartphone, chargers, hearing equipment). Have a bag for your chargers.
  • Keep your hearing equipment in your ears to prevent loss.  

When hospitals are busy, it is easier for nurses and doctors to make mistakes. See this hospital survival guide for tips before going to the hospital. It includes tips such as bringing a list of your medications and creating a living will so family members understand your wishes. This healthcare access toolkit provides information for healthcare providers about accessible healthcare.

How hospitals are organized

  • Admitting physician oversees your care
  • Consulting physicians provide specialty knowledge
  • Nurses provide day-to-day care for the patient 
  • Your nurse
  • Charge nurse oversees the ward
  • Nursing supervisor oversees the hospital
  • Discharge coordinators/planners & social workers enact post-discharge plans
  • Ethics consultants address “sticky situations.” If you’re not getting what you need, ask to speak with the nursing supervisor for the hospital or ask for an ethics consult. You can also contact for help.

Planning to go home

Plan for how you will leave the hospital before you leave (see link). Social workers and discharge planners usually help with this. Some of the things they do are:

  • Determine where you will go—home, a relative’s place, or facilities such as skilled nursing or rehabilitation.
  • Determine who will care for you after discharge.
  • Make sure you have access to medications and services after discharge.

Having a plan is essential. Remaining in the hospital with discharge-related delays is dangerous. You can catch infections that are transmitted in the hospital. There could be an error related to your treatment. Contact the social worker on your hospital ward to get this process started. Check in twice a day. During such a busy time, you may need to take charge and look out for yourself.

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