A State of Alaska owned licensed assisted living facility for seniors, the Anchorage Pioneer Home (APH), has modified its transportation policies and practices to better accommodate qualified individuals with disabilities as part of its recently announced settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS). The settlement agreement resolves an administrative complaint filed with the HHS Office of Civil Rights (OCR) that charged DHSS and APH with violating Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504) and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). DHSS owns and operates APH, a licensed assisted living facility for seniors, 65 years of age or older. Serving more than 160 Alaska residents, APH provides care at three different levels: Level I (independent); Level II (basic assistance); and Level III (24-hour care for Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders). The Obama administration’s promise to emphasize disability and other federal discrimination law enforcement means public and private plans and providers should audit and strengthen practices to withstand scrutiny.
Section 504 requires state and local governments to ensure that qualified individuals with disabilities have equal access to programs, services, or activities receiving federal financial assistance. Title II of the ADA extends the prohibition against disability discrimination to state and local governments who do not receive federal financial assistance. After conducting an investigation prompted by an administrative complaint filed with OCR, OCR issued a Jan. 16, 2009, letter detailing its findings that among other things, DHSS had violated Section 504 and Title II of the ADA, by declining to consider a legitimate request for a reasonable modification to its policies to enable an APH resident with Alzheimer’s disease to use APH’s transportation services for medical appointments.
Under the settlement, APH will consider individual requests for reasonable modifications to its transportation policies and practices to ensure that APH residents with disabilities are afforded an equal opportunity to access transportation services. If, after an individualized assessment, an APH resident, who is a qualified individual with a disability, is determined to need an escort to access and benefit from APH transportation services, APH will provide an escort at no cost.
Under the settlement agreement:
- DHSS reaffirmed its legal responsibility to ensure that no qualified individual with a disability is discriminated against in any DHSS service, program, or activity.
- DHSS reaffirmed its legal responsibility to not retaliate against any person for opposing discrimination under Section 504 or Title II of the ADA, or participating in an investigation under those laws.
- APH agreed to appoint a senior staff person to coordinate its compliance efforts under Section 504 and Title II of the ADA; provide additional staff training on preventing disability discrimination; publish a notice informing its residents and their guardians of their rights and responsibilities under these laws; and publish grievance procedures for handling disability discrimination complaints.
- APH agreed to implement a revised transportation policy to ensure that its residents with disabilities, who are eligible to receive transportation services, are afforded an equal opportunity to participate in APH’s transportation program.
A copy of the OCR letter of finding and the settlement agreement, along with more information about OCR’s civil rights enforcement activities, can be found at http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/civilrights/activities/agreements/akpioneeragreement.pdf
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