September 8, 2017
HHS Office for Civil Rights Enters Into Agreement with Oklahoma Nursing Home to Protect Patients with HIV/AIDS from Discrimination
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has entered into a Voluntary Resolution Agreement with Heritage Hills Living & Rehabilitation Center, LLC (Heritage Hills). The Agreement resolves a complaint alleging that Heritage Hills discharged a seriously ill patient from its facility upon learning that she was HIV positive and in violation of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act.
Heritage Hills is a for-profit, 81-bed, certified skilled nursing facility located in the City of McAlester, in Pittsburg County, Oklahoma. Because Heritage Hills receives Federal financial assistance through its participation in the Medicare and Medicaid programs, it is subject to the requirements of Section 504 and Section 1557.
Heritage Hills agreed to resolve the complaint after OCR initiated an investigation into whether Heritage Hills discriminated against the complainant’s daughter on the basis of the daughter’s disability (HIV/AIDS) in violation of Section 504 and Section 1557.
Under the Agreement, Heritage Hills will ensure compliance with Section 504 and Section 1557; report admissions and discharge data to OCR for a 12 month period; appoint a Civil Rights Coordinator; publish and post a new non-discrimination policy; implement a new patient grievance procedure and inform patients of their right to file complaints with OCR; require its staff to receive training on HIV/AIDS and Federal non-discrimination obligations; and revise its admissions policy to ensure that all individuals with disabilities, including but not limited to HIV/AIDS, are provided equal access to and an equal opportunity to participate in all programs, benefits and services offered by the facility.
“It is heart-wrenching to see a seriously ill person ejected from a federally-funded medical facility simply because they were HIV positive. Such conduct is not only tragic, it is illegal, and as our investigation and resolution of this complaint demonstrates, OCR is committed to ensuring that persons with disabilities– including those with HIV/AIDS – are afforded equal access to health care,” said Roger Severino, OCR director.
OCR enforces civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, disability, age, sex, religion or exercise of conscience. Collectively, Section 504 and Section 1557 prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability in health programs or activities that receive HHS funding, such as nursing homes and hospitals.
During the last five years, OCR has engaged in more than 200 enforcement and outreach efforts involving HIV/AIDS, including public education campaigns, HIV-related civil rights complaint investigations, HIV-related health information privacy investigations and 12 joint civil rights/health information privacy compliance reviews, which were the subject of OCR’s report, Protecting the Civil Rights and Health Information Privacy of People Living with HIV/AIDS. The report is available at: https://www.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/compliance-review-initiative-report-2016.pdf.
Of particular note, OCR has launched an Information is Powerful Medicine public education campaign, which encourages those living with HIV to be proactive in their health care. The campaign explains individuals’ health information privacy rights, including how individuals can monitor and access a copy of their medical records; and is available at http://www.hhs.gov/hipaa/for-professionals/special-topics/information-is-powerful-medicine/index.html.
A copy of the voluntary resolution agreement can be found at https://www.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/heritage-resolution-agreement.pdf.
For additional information on OCR’s work on HIV/AIDS issues, visit www.hhs.gov/civil-rights/for-individuals/special-topics/HIV/index.html.
To learn more about non-discrimination and health information privacy laws, and to find information on filing a complaint, visit us at www.hhs.gov/ocr.
Follow OCR on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HHSOCR.