OCR Resolves Discrimination Allegations Against MedStar Health

MedStar Health denied patients with disabilities access to a support person.

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) yesterday announced the resolution of three disability discrimination complaints aimed at MedStar Health hospitals and care locations.

The resolution will ensure patients with disabilities are allowed access to support persons at MedStar Health during COVID-19. Support persons are defined as a family member, personal care assistant, similar disability service provider, or someone knowledgeable about the management or care of the patient who is authorized to assist the patient in decision making.

Patients who complained were impacted by MedStar Health’s temporary visitor restrictions adopted during COVID-19. This denied them the support they needed for their disabilities to ensure equal access to healthcare.

The patients who submitted complaints all had various support needs: a patient with neuro-cognitive deficits from a stroke, partial blindness, and cancer was denied a support person while seeking treatment for seizure symptoms in the emergency department at MedStar St. Mary’s Hospital in Maryland; a patient with hearing loss and brain dysfunction who was suffering disorientation and memory was denied a support person while recovering from heart surgery at the MedStar Washington Hospital Center in Washington, D.C.; and a person with advanced neuro-muscular autoimmune disease who and memory loss and physical impairments was denied a support person when admitted to the MedStar Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, D.C. for a pre-scheduled surgery.

Those who submitted complaints stated they were denied effective communication with their treatment teams, denied the ability to make informed decisions and provide consent, and were subjected unnecessarily to physical and pharmacological restraints.

Because of the allegations, OCR enforced Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, both of which prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability in programs receiving Federal financial assistance.

Through working with OCR, MedStar Health revised its policy to distinguish between visitors and support persons — those who perform specific disability-related functions for patients with disabilities when necessary to have an equal chance to get and benefit from healthcare services. The updated policy applies to all its healthcare locations, which encompass 10 hospitals, 14 urgent care centers, seven cancer treatment centers, and more than 100 locations providing services for physical therapy, orthopedics, heart, and vascular care.

“While recognizing the safety considerations during the COVID-19 pandemic, civil rights protections remain in full force and effect and MedStar Health’s modifications in its practices ensure that patients with disabilities get the support to which they are entitled in a safe and effective way,” Robinsue Frohboese, acting director of OCR, said.