Today, in response to the first federal complaint challenging discriminatory hospital “no-visitor” policies, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services announced a resolution making clear that federal law requires hospitals and the state agencies overseeing them to modify policies to ensure patients with disabilities can safely access the in-person supports needed to benefit from medical care during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Strict no-visitor policies put in place at hospitals have prevented patients with disabilities from safely receiving support from family members or staff necessary for them to effectively communicate with medical personnel or otherwise receive equal access to medical treatment. These accommodations are required by federal civil rights laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (Section 504) and Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). No-visitor policies have disproportionately impacted Black people with disabilities, who have higher rates of infection and hospitalization.
The complaint, filed against the State of Connecticut last month by the Center for Public Representation, Disability Rights Connecticut, The Arc of the United States, CommunicationFirst and Connecticut partners, alleged that Connecticut’s COVID-19 no-visitor policy denied people with disabilities equal access to medical care and effective communication, deprived them of their right to make informed decisions and provide informed consent, and resulted in harms such as unnecessary physical and chemical restraints. CPR and partners also filed a separate complaint against Hartford Hospital regarding its discriminatory treatment of 73-year-old “Patient G.S.,” who has speech and short-term memory disabilities but was not allowed access to in-person supports necessary for her to communicate, which was also recently resolved and publicly announced today.
Highlights from the hospital policy announced by OCR and Connecticut include that it:
- Requires all hospitals and other health care facilities to allow designated persons (family members, staff, or others) to support any disabled patient that may need such support;
- Requires hospitals to provide available personal protective equipment (PPE) to support persons to keep them safe;
- Includes procedures for screening support persons for COVID-19 symptoms and for supporters to safely take breaks and leave and re-enter the hospital; and
- Encourages hospitals to mitigate the risk associated with support persons supporting COVID-19-positive patients.
Read the full press release on today’s resolution here.
More information on hospital visitor policies during the COVID-19 pandemic and their impact on disabled people, as well as a framework stakeholders can use to evaluate those policies and a collection of state policies, can be found here.