Hospital Visitation Updates for Individuals with Disabilities

ACDL News, Disability Law No comments

ASL VIDEO HERE

ASL Template letter HERE

The coronavirus pandemic affects many aspects of our lives and one major change is how hospitals, outpatient clinics, and outpatient surgical facilities have changed their visitor policies.  Many hospitals, clinics, and facilities adopted blanket bans on visitors with no (or limited) exceptions that exclude support persons for people with disabilities.  Frequently, exceptions have been limited to permitting visitors for pediatric patients, end of life patients, or patients going through childbirth.

Visitor policies that exclude the presence of support for patients with disabilities, such as a family member, violate the Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act and the Arizonans with Disabilities Act.  These civil rights laws require covered healthcare facilities to provide reasonable modifications to policies for individuals with disabilities.  Without a family member or support person, some patients with disabilities are being denied equal access to medical treatment, effective communication, the ability to make informed decisions and provide consent, and maybe unnecessarily subjected to physical and pharmacological restraints.

ACDL along with The Arc of Arizona, Arizona Public Health Association, Arizona Association of Providers for People with Disabilities, and the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest, sent a letter to Governor Douglas Ducey and Director Cara Christ asking the State of Arizona to issue guidance on the no-visitor rules issued in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Last week, in response to this letter, the Arizona Department of Health sent a letter to hospitals, reminding them of their obligations under the ADA.

The letter states, “A policy that does not allow caregivers to be present in the hospital represents a significant hardship to a vulnerable population and may violate state licensure rules and regulations.” The letter provides examples of vulnerable populations that may need a caregiver or family member present. The list includes but is not limited to:

  • Individuals living with autism;
  • Individuals living with Down syndrome;
  • Individuals living with cerebral palsy; and
  • Individuals living with related complex disabilities with cognitive impairments.

This letter explains the important role caregivers and family members play in the healthcare of their loved ones. Some people with disabilities are unable to communicate their healthcare concerns or needs with healthcare providers, making the possibility of getting informed consent difficult or impossible. Caregivers and family members play an important role, bridging the communication gap, while advocating on behalf of the patient.

If you or anyone you know is being denied an exception to a no-visitor policy, consider making a written reasonable modification request to the hospital’s Chief Executive Officer or other members of management handling patient services. For a reasonable modification template letter, click here.  This template includes a link to ADHS’ letter to hospitals.  You can also file a complaint with the appropriate agency.

To initiate a discrimination complaint under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act or Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, you can do so online, by mail, or by email.

Online: https://ocrportal.hhs.gov/ocr/smartscreen/main.jsf

Mail: Mail the completed complaint and consent forms to

Centralized Case Management Operations
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
200 Independence Avenue, S.W.
Room 509F HHH Bldg.
Washington, D.C. 20201

Email: Email the completed complaint and consent forms to OCRComplaints@HHS.gov.

To initiate a discrimination complaint under the ADA with the U.S. Department of Justice, you can do so online, by mail, or by fax.

Online: https://civilrights.justice.gov/report/

Mail: Send the completed complaint form to

US Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Civil Rights Division
Disability Rights Section
Washington, D.C. 20530

Fax: Fax the completed complaint to 202-307-1197.

To initiate a discrimination complaint under the Arizonans with Disabilities Act (AzDA), you can do so online, by phone, or by mail.

Online: https://www.azag.gov/complaints/civil-rights

Phone:

  • Phoenix Office: 602-542-5263
  • Tucson Office: 520-628-6504

Mail: send the completed intake form to

  • Arizona Attorney General’s Office – Civil Rights Division
    Phoenix Office
    2005 N Central Ave
    Phoenix, AZ 85004-2926
  • Arizona Attorney General’s Office – Civil Rights Division
    Tucson Office
    400 West Congress
    South Building, Suite 315
    Tucson, AZ 85701-1367

The Attorney General’s Office will call you to complete the process.  In general, these complaints must be filed within 180 days of the date of discrimination.

If you need legal advice or assistance, please call ACDL at 602-274-6287.

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