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Denied MRI Because Of Disability, Woman Sues

December 4, 2012
Written by: , Filed in: Breast Imaging, Diagnostic Imaging, Practice Management
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A breast-care center in Knoxville, Tennessee, refused to perform an MRI for a woman in a wheelchair because she could not climb onto the machine unassisted. The woman, Stephanie Brewer Cook, is the city’s Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) coordinator. Predictably, a lawsuit ensued.

Cook filed the suit in U.S. District Court on October 29 against the Knoxville Comprehensive Breast Center (KCBC) and its founder, Kamilia Kozlowski, MD. The suit says KCBC’s actions violated the ADA. It asks that the court order the center to provide MRI and other services to everyone, regardless of disability. It also seeks compensatory damages for “economic injury, emotional distress, stigma, and violation of Plaintiff’s civil rights.”

According to the lawsuit, this is what happened: In June 2011 Cook found a suspicious lump in one of her breasts. She visited KCBC, which told her to return in six months for an MRI. During that June visit, Cook told a nurse that she would need assistance in getting onto the MRI exam table.

On the day of her MRI appointment in December 2011, KCBC called Cook and told her it would not provide an MRI because her metal wheelchair could not be brought into the MRI room. Center personnel told her they would not carry her into the room or otherwise physically assist her. To be allowed to use the MRI machine, the staffers said, she had to be able to stand and hop up onto the table.

Cook, interviewed by WATE-TV in Knoxville, said KCBC could have accommodated her easily and safely:

I’ve had X-rays. I’ve had MRIs. I know how my body works. I know how to educate someone on what they can do to transfer me onto a piece of equipment.

Dr. Kozlowski told WATE that KCBC contacted the U.S. Department of Labor about the ADA. “According to the ADA rules, that routine diagnostic equipment, mammography equipment, must be able to serve ADA patients, which we do,” she said. “Those services, imaging services, that are not commonly used by majority of people fall under the safe harbor and do not fall under the ADA requirements.”

Dr. Kozlowski said KCBC recommended to Cook other providers who could help her. Cook said it was her gynecologist who found another provider. She received an MRI there, and the lump turned out to be benign.

Why didn’t KCBC just have someone help Cook onto the MRI table? Nobody has publicly provided specific reasons, but Dr. Kozlowski did hint at liability concerns: “We made recommendations to have this particular person served elsewhere, which would be more convenient for her health without taking any risks to her health.”

So as a result, KCBC got slapped with a lawsuit that, regardless of the outcome, will cost it far more in lawyers’ fees alone than, say, a nonmagnetic gurney would have. Sigh.

Related seminar: UCSF Breast Imaging and Digital Mammography (free domestic shipping)

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