HHS Office for Civil Rights Reaches Agreement with Hillsborough County Fire and Rescue in Florida to Improve Access to Care for Communities of Color
Today, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Office for Civil Rights (OCR), is pleased to announce it has reached an agreement with Hillsborough County Fire and Rescue, in Hillsborough County, Florida, on corrective steps the County will implement to ensure that individuals needing emergency medical services are not discriminated against on the basis of race, color, or national origin, as required by Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Hillsborough County Fire and Rescue agreed to implement a revised nondiscrimination policy to better protect individuals receiving its services from discrimination. OCR initiated a compliance review of Hillsborough County Fire and Rescue in response to public press reports indicating that its paramedics refused to transport an African American woman to the hospital because they assumed she could not afford the ambulance cost due to her race. Today’s announcement furthers HHS’s work to reduce health care disparities and improve access to health care services for communities of color.
“This case is a reminder that bias in our medical system can result in death,” said OCR Director Melanie Fontes Rainer. “The Office for Civil Rights takes these issues seriously by ensuring health programs and services improve their awareness and compliance with Federal civil rights laws including laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin. This case should serve as a notice for health care providers everywhere of the importance of federal civil rights laws and providing health care, free from discrimination based on biases and stereotypes.”
In 2018, OCR initiated a compliance review of Hillsborough County Fire and Rescue’s investigation and response to this incident, as well as the County’s policies and procedures. OCR’s compliance review included interviews with the deceased woman’s mother, Hillsborough County staff involved in the incident, and the Hillsborough County NAACP Chapter President. OCR also analyzed Hillsborough County’s demographics and data reporting on Hillsborough County Fire and Rescue’s 911 call responses.
During this compliance review, OCR identified concerns regarding Hillsborough County Fire and Rescue’s procedures for ensuring that service recipients are not discriminated against on the basis of race, color, or national origin. Title VI prohibits providers like Hillsborough County Fire and Rescue from denying services or providing services in a different manner because of a person’s race. Title VI also requires that providers take reasonable steps to ensure that people with limited English proficiency have meaningful access to services. As a result of this compliance review, OCR worked with Hillsborough County Fire and Rescue to improve their compliance with Federal civil rights law and prevent discrimination from occurring in the future, including the:
- Designation of a staff member to serve as Hillsborough County Fire and Rescue’s Title VI Officer;
- Requirement that Hillsborough County Fire and Rescue staff members participate in civil rights training provided by OCR;
- Significant revision of its nondiscrimination policy and substantial technical assistance from OCR, including procedures to ensure effective communication with individuals who are Limited English Proficient; and
- Dissemination of the revised nondiscrimination policy to all Hillsborough County Fire and Rescue employees; notification that the policy is in effect; and publication of the policy on signs in Hillsborough County Fire and Rescue’s facilities and on Hillsborough County’s website.
OCR commends Hillsborough County Fire and Rescue for its dedication to developing and implementing its Title VI policies and procedures. To learn more about Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, visit https://www.hhs.gov/civil-rights/for-individuals/special-topics/needy-families/civil-rights-requirements/index.html.
OCR also offers resources and best practices to help organizations take reasonable steps to make their programs, services, and activities accessible by eligible persons with limited English proficiency: https://www.hhs.gov/civil-rights/for-individuals/special-topics/limited-english-proficiency/index.html.
If you believe that you have been discriminated against in programs or activities that HHS directly operates or to which HHS provides federal financial assistance, you may file a complaint for yourself or someone else at: https://www.hhs.gov/civil-rights/filing-a-complaint/index.html.
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