Oklahoma Nursing Home Settles HHS HIV Discrimination Charges

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) that resolves a HHS 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.  Part of HHS’ expanding  civil rights enforcement emphasis, the resolution agreement reminds health care providers and others receiving or providing services funded by programs managed by HHS of their growing exposure to civil rights prosecutions and liability for failing to comply with federal civil rights law nondiscrimination rules.

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 Resolution Agreement, Heritage Hills agrees to:

  • 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;
  • Iimplement a new patient grievance procedure and inform patients of their right to file complaints with OCR;
  • Rrequire its staff to receive training on HIV/AIDS and Federal non-discrimination obligations; and
  • Rrevise 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.

The HHS enforcement action reminds health care providers about the importance of properly managing their civil rights compliance. 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 here.

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.

OCR’s enforcement in this and other HIV discrimination actions is part a broader nondiscrimination and civil rights enforcement initiative under Section 1551 and other federal laws which has resulted in a growing list of multi-million dollar settlements from health care providers, state and local government agencies and others receiving federal funding from programs managed by the Department of Health & Human Services.  See here. Health care providers should verify their policies and operations comply with these civil rights nondiscrimination rules.

About the Author

Recognized by her peers as a Martindale-Hubble “AV-Preeminent” (Top 1%) and “Top Rated Lawyer” with special recognition LexisNexis® Martindale-Hubbell® as “LEGAL LEADER™ Texas Top Rated Lawyer” in Health Care Law and Labor and Employment Law; as among the “Best Lawyers In Dallas” for her work in the fields of “Labor & Employment,” “Tax: Erisa & Employee Benefits,” “Health Care” and “Business and Commercial Law” by D Magazine, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and management consultant, author, public policy advocate and lecturer widely known for 30+ years of health industry and other management work, public policy leadership and advocacy, coaching, teachings, and publications. Ms. Stamer works with health industry and related businesses and their management, employee benefit plans, governments and other organizations deal with all aspects of human resources and workforce, internal controls and regulatory compliance, change management and other performance and operations management and compliance. Her experienced includes more than 20 years of experience advising and defending health industry and other organizations about disability and other civil rights discrimination law compliance and risk management.  For additional information about Ms. Stamer, see here, e-mail her here or telephone Ms. Stamer at (214) 452-8297.

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