Updated HHS Guidance: Civil Rights Protections For People With Disabilities For Healthcare Providers

Published in Government Relations on February 04, 2022

HHS

On February 4, 2022, the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) issued guidance to health care providers on civil rights protections for people with disabilities. VGM has received several inquires as to the more specific nature of the guidance. 

To be clear, the release is an update of an earlier (March 28, 2020) HHS bulletin, which included information relative to civil rights, HIPAA, and the Coronavirus Disease 2019. 

The bulletin noted “…in light of the Public Health Emergency concerning the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at HHS is providing this bulletin to ensure that entities covered by civil rights authorities keep in mind their obligations under laws and regulations that prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, disability, age, sex, and exercise of conscience and religion in HHS-funded programs.”

“Entities covered” are, among others, government officials and healthcare providers including durable medical equipment suppliers.

Specifically, this burden included:

  • Providing effective communication with individuals who are deaf, hard of hearing, blind, have low vision, or have speech disabilities through the use of qualified interpreters, picture boards, and other means;
  • Providing meaningful access to programs and information to individuals with limited English proficiency through the use of qualified interpreters and through other means;
  • Making emergency messaging available in plain language and in languages prevalent in the affected area(s) and in multiple formats, such as audio, large print, and captioning, and ensuring that websites providing emergency-related information are accessible;
  • Addressing the needs of individuals with disabilities, including individuals with mobility impairments, individuals who use assistive devices, auxiliary aids, or durable medical equipment, individuals with impaired sensory, manual, and speaking skills, and individuals with immunosuppressed conditions including HIV/AIDS in emergency planning;
  • Respecting requests for religious accommodations in treatment and access to clergy or faith practices as practicable.

Further, the guidance added:

…“covered entities should consider adopting, as circumstances and resources allow, the following practices to help ensure all segments of the community are served:”

  • Making use of multiple outlets and resources for messaging to reach individuals with disabilities, individuals with limited English proficiency, and members of diverse faith communities; and
  • Stocking facilities with items that will help people to maintain independence, such as hearing aid batteries, canes, and walkers.

The updated guidance of today (February 4) HHS clarified that federal civil rights laws continue to apply to health care providers, including those administering COVID-19 testing, medical supplies, and medication. These rules also apply to entities providing hospitalization, long-term care, intensive treatments, and critical care, such as oxygen therapy and mechanical ventilators. Additionally, federal civil rights laws apply to state Crisis Standard of Care plans, procedures, and related standards for triaging scarce resources that hospitals are required to follow. The FAQs remind health care providers of their obligations under law and provide examples of applicability.

“The guidance, issued by HHS’ Office for Civil Rights, makes clear that in light of the continuing public health emergency, when resources can be scarce, it is vital that individuals with disabilities are not prevented from receiving needed health care benefits and services as this violates federal civil rights laws.”

For additional information with regard to how durable medical equipment suppliers (and virtually all healthcare providers, HHS has posted a series of FAQs at https://www.hhs.gov/civil-rights/for-providers/civil-rights-covid19/disabilty-faqs/index.html.) The FAQs and other information are quite extensive and cover several issues such as treatment limitations, quality of life basis, patient visitation policies and much more. VGM urges readers to review this information, and, if you have questions or concerns, contact Mark Higley, Vice President of Regulatory Affairs, at mark.higley@vgm.com or 319.504.9515.


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