HHS closed a civil rights complaint against Connecticut after the state issued an executive order to ensure that people with disabilities have access to support persons during the COVID-19 pandemic, the agency said Tuesday.
Connecticut's executive order mandates hospitals and other acute care facilities to allow a designated support person to visit a patient with a disability. Family members, service providers or others knowledgeable about the needs of the person with a disability can serve as a designated support person, HHS said in a statement.
Patients require an individualized assessment, "so hospitals should take into account what a patient's saying their needs are and then balance the safety interests and the infection control interests to reach a reasonable modification. What's reasonable is what's required," said HHS Office of Civil Rights Director Roger Severino during a press call.
Disability rights organizations filed complaints against the state in May, alleging that Connecticut's guidance about hospital "no visit" policies during the COVID-19 outbreak prevented people with disabilities from receiving the support they needed because it only allowed for services provided by the state's Department of Developmental Services.
"Specific patients with disabilities in Connecticut facilities were being denied equal access to medical treatment, effective communication, the ability to make informed decisions and provide consent and that they were being unnecessarily subjected to physical and pharmacological restraints," HHS said in a statement.
According to the agency, advocates also alleged that Hartford Hospital didn't "provide a reasonable modification to the hospital's no-visitor policy" for a mostly nonverbal 73-year old patient with severe short-term memory loss admitted to the hospital for COVID-19.
It's critical for people with disabilities to have equal access to healthcare, Severino said.
"Equal access to healthcare often means a reasonable modification to allow a support person to be there, to help them with communication, to help them make sure they receive the treatment they need," he said. For example, a person with autism may only be comfortable communicating with one or two people.
OCR recently settled complaints against Alabama and Pennsylvania that alleged their pandemic response guidelines discriminated against people with disabilities because they included disability as a factor for making triage decisions.