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Capitol Correspondence - 06.08.20

HHS Addresses Disability Civil Rights Complaint on Visitors in Hospital

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As an update on this March 31 story, the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) announced a resolution clearly stating to hospitals and the state agencies overseeing them that federal law requires them to modify policies so that patients with disabilities can safely access Direct Support Professionals who support their needs as they access medical care during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As announced by HHS:

“Today, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the U.S Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announces that it has reached an Early Case Resolution (ECR) with the State of Connecticut after the state issued an executive order regarding non-visitation policies for short-term hospitals, outpatient clinics, and outpatient surgical facilities to ensure that people with disabilities are not denied reasonable access to needed support persons. OCR also reached an ECR with Hartford Hospital after it agreed to grant a 73-year old woman with aphasia access to support persons to help with her communication and comprehension in her treatment.

In May 2020, OCR received complaints from Disability Rights Connecticut, CommunicationFIRST, the Arc of Connecticut, Independence Northwest: Center for Independent Living of Northwest CT, Center for Public Representation, and The Arc of the USA alleging that Connecticut guidance regarding hospital visitation for people with disabilities violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, which are enforced by OCR.

The complainants alleged that Connecticut guidance concerning hospital ‘no visitor’ policies during the COVID-19 pandemic allowed only narrow exceptions for support persons for individuals with disabilities receiving certain services from the state Department of Developmental Services (DDS), leaving large groups of persons with disabilities unable to avail themselves of the exception. The complainants alleged that without support persons, specific patients with disabilities in Connecticut facilities were being denied equal access to medical treatment, effective communication, the ability to make informed decisions and provide consent, and that they were being unnecessarily subjected to physical and pharmacological restraints.

[…]

As part of the resolution, Connecticut is issuing an executive order to ensure that people with disabilities have reasonable access to support personnel in hospital settings in a manner that is consistent with disability rights laws and the health and safety of patients, health care providers, and support persons.  The order includes establishing a statewide policy requiring hospitals and other acute care settings to permit the entrance of a designated support person for a patient with a disability and permitting family members, service-providers or other individuals knowledgeable about the needs of the person with a disability to serve as a designated support person. Where patients with a disability are in such a setting for longer than one day, they may designate two support persons, provided only one is present at a time.”