Oklahoma Nursing Home Settles HHS HIV Discrimination Charges

September 8, 2017

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.

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ provides human resources and employee benefit and other business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other coaching, tools and other resources, training and education on leadership, governance, human resources, employee benefits, data security and privacy, insurance, health care and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of our other Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ resources here.   If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information including your preferred e-mail by creating your profile here.

NOTICE: These statements and materials are for general informational and purposes only. They do not establish an attorney-client relationship, are not legal advice or an offer or commitment to provide legal advice, and do not serve as a substitute for legal advice. Readers are urged to engage competent legal counsel for consultation and representation in light of the specific facts and circumstances presented in their unique circumstance at any particular time. No comment or statement in this publication is to be construed as legal advise or an admission. The author reserves the right to qualify or retract any of these statements at any time. Likewise, the content is not tailored to any particular situation and does not necessarily address all relevant issues. Because the law is rapidly evolving and rapidly evolving rules makes it highly likely that subsequent developments could impact the currency and completeness of this discussion. The presenter and the program sponsor disclaim, and have no responsibility to provide any update or otherwise notify any participant of any such change, limitation, or other condition that might affect the suitability of reliance upon these materials or information otherwise conveyed in connection with this program. Readers may not rely upon, are solely responsible for, and assume the risk and all liabilities resulting from their use of this publication.

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Civil Rights Settlement Highlights Health Industry Discrimination Risks As OCR Prepares To Broaden Requirements

October 27, 2015

Doctors’ Center Hospital, Inc.  (DCI) in the latest health care providers nailed in a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights (OCR) enforcement action for allegedly violating Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504) by failing to provide auxiliary aids and services for deaf and hard of hearing patients under OCR’s ongoing aggressive campaigned on enforcing federal discrimination laws against health care providers and others covered by its regulations.  OCR’s announcement of the Voluntary Compliance Resolution Agreement with DCI (Agreement) announced today (October 27, 2015) comes with the November 6, 2015 deadline for health care providers and other concerned parties to comment on proposed OCR regulations on Nondiscrimination in Health Programs and Activities, implementing the federal prohibition against sex discrimination in health programs and activities enacted under Section 1557 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) and tightening other nondiscrimination requirements that generally apply to health care providers and others covered by OCR’s civil rights rules (covered entities) and various other programs and activities administered by OCR. Health care providers and others covered by these rules should provide meaningful input on the proposed rules even as they work to tighten their compliance and risk management practices to mitigate their exposures.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 1557 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) (collectively the “Civil Rights Laws”) together require hospitals, health care providers, clinics, medical practices and other entities who receive Federal financial assistance to provide services to persons with disabilities in a non-discriminatory manner.  As construed by OCR with respect to deaf and hearing impaired individuals and their caregivers, these laws require health care providers offer services or aids need to ensure effective communication in light of the abilities of the individual who is deaf or hard of hearing, the primary method used by the individual to communicate and the complexity and nature of the information being conveyed. Failure to ensure effective communication in such health care settings may lead to misinformation, inappropriate diagnosis and/or delayed or improper medical treatments.

DCI  Discrimination Charge Settlement

The latest in a growing series of Civil Rights Law enforcement actions of these laws against health care providers by OCR, the Agreement announced October 27, 2015 resolves OCR charges stemming from a discrimination complaint made to OCR by an family that charged that one DCI facility, Doctors’ Center Hospital San Juan, Inc. violated Section 504 by failing to provide a sign language interpreter necessary to ensure effective communication during their 10 month old child’s five day hospitalization. OCR investigated the complaint under Section 504, which prohibits covered entities that receive Federal financial assistance from excluding or denying individuals with disabilities an equal opportunity to receive program benefits and services.

While the complaint that resulted in the OCR charges only specifically named its Doctors’ Center Hospital San Juan, Inc., at DCI’s request, the Agreement includes all of DCI facilities in Puerto Rico, which collectively serve an estimated 109,000 patients a year in the San Juan area as well as the northern part of the island of Puerto Rico.  Under the Agreement, DCI, Doctors’ Center Hospital San Juan, Inc. and the Doctors’ Center Hospital Bayamón, Inc. to resolve the complaint agree to take several actions to improve access to appropriate communication services for deaf and hard of hearing individuals including revising its policies and procedures, performing an assessment of the communication needs for deaf and hard of hearing patients and their companions, providing appropriate auxiliary aids and services at no cost, adopting and posting a Notice of Nondiscrimination, creating a Section 504 Grievance Procedure, appointing a Section 504 Coordinator and training all staff on the revised policies and procedures. Read the full Agreement here.

Health Industry’s Already High Civil Rights Enforcement Risks Set To Rise

The DCI Agreement highlights the already significant exposure that health care providers face under OCR’s current Civil Rights Law enforcement practices and comes as OCR is preparing to broaden and expand its existing Civil Rights regulations by adopting proposed changes to its regulations on Nondiscrimination in Health Programs and Activities. The deadline for comment on those proposed regulations is November 6, 2015.

Even before it adopts these proposed changes, health care providers already face significant Civil Rights discrimination risks.  OCR already aggressively investigates and enforces federal Civil Rights Law prohibitions against discrimination based on race, color, national origin, disability, age and sex against covered entities as part of the Obama Administration’s broader civil rights agenda. See. e.g., Health Care Employer’s Discrimination Triggers Medicare, EEOC Prosecutions; Genesis Healthcare Disability HHS OCR Discrimination Settlement Reminder To Use Interpreters, Other Needed Accommodations For Disabled; OCR Settlements Show Health Care & Disabled Housing Providers Face Growing Disability Discrimination Risks. Given the often multimillion dollar penalties and other heavy sanctions that OCR already regularly imposes against a long and ever-growing list of state and other health care, child care, elder care, insurance and other entities for violating its Civil Rights Laws, health care providers and other providers, Medicare and Medicaid Advantage and other insurers, and other covered entities generally will want both to carefully review and comment as appropriate on the proposed rules, as well as review and tighten as advisable their existing practices to reduce the risk of being sanctioned, excluded or both for violation of these nondiscrimination and other civil rights requirements by OCR. In this respect, covered entities will want both to evaluate their risks and responsibilities under the specific rules about Section 1557’s sex discrimination prohibits, as well as changes that more broadly affect the interpretation and enforcement of the nondiscrimination rules enforced by OCR generally.

The author of this article, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer is a practicing attorney and Managing Shareholder of Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C., an attorney practicing as the co-managing member of Stamer│Chadwick │Soefje PLLC, author, pubic speaker, health policy advocate and industry thought leader, has focused on helping health industry and other organizations and their management understand and use the law and process to manage people, process, compliance, operations and risk including significant work with compliance with OCR and other regulatory requirements.

Scribe responsible for leading the American Bar Association (ABA) Joint Committee on Employee Benefits (JCEB) annual agency meeting with HHS Office of Civil Rights for five years, Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section, Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law, and the former Board Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, Ms. Stamer has more than 28 years’ experience advising health industry clients about these and other matters.

Ms. Stamer’s experience includes advising and defending hospitals, nursing home, home health, physicians and other health care professionals, rehabilitation and other health care providers and health industry clients to establish and administer compliance and risk management policies and programs in response under CMS, OCR, HHS, FDA, IRS, DOJ, DEA, NIH, licensing, and other regulations; prevent, conduct and investigate, and respond to Board of Medicine, OIG, DOJ, DEA, DOD, DOL, Department of Health, Department of Aging & Disability, IRS, Department of Insurance, and other federal and state regulators; ERISA and private insurance, prompt pay and other reimbursement and contracting; peer review and other quality concerns; and other health care industry investigation, and enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns.

Ms. Stamer also is widely recognized for her regulatory and public policy advocacy, publications, and public speaking on privacy and other compliance, risk management concerns. Her insights on privacy, data security, and other matters have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Business Insurance, the Dallas Morning News, Spencer Publications, and a host of other publications. She speaks and has conducted privacy training for the Association of State & Territorial Health Plans (ASTHO), the Los Angeles Health Department, the American Bar Association, the Health Care Compliance Association, a multitude of health industry, health plan, insurance and financial services, education, employer employee benefit and other clients, trade and professional associations and others.

Highly valued for her rare ability to find pragmatic client-centric solutions by combining her detailed legal and operational knowledge and experience with her talent for creative problem-solving, Ms. Stamer supports her clients both on a real time, “on demand” basis and with longer term basis to deal with daily performance management and operations, emerging crises, strategic planning, process improvement and change management, investigations, defending litigation, audits, investigations or other enforcement challenges, government affairs and public policy.

Ms. Stamer also is active in the leadership of a broad range of other professional and civic organizations. For instance, Ms. Stamer serves on the steering committee and as a faculty member of the Southern California ISSA-HIMMS Annual Security Summit and Chaired its 2015 3rd Annual Health Care Privacy Summit.  Ms. Stamer presently serves on an American Bar Association (ABA) Joint Committee on Employee Benefits Council representative; Vice President of the North Texas Healthcare Compliance Professionals Association; Immediate Past Chair of the ABA RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Committee, its current Welfare Benefit Plans Committee Co-Chair, on its Substantive Groups & Committee and its incoming Defined Contribution Plan Committee Chair and Practice Management Vice Chair; Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group and a current member of its Healthcare Coordinating Council; current Vice Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefit Committee; the former Coordinator and a Vice-Chair of the Gulf Coast TEGE Council TE Division; on the Advisory Boards of InsuranceThoughtLeadership.com, HR.com, Employee Benefit News, and many other publications.  She also previously served as a founding Board Member and President of the Alliance for Healthcare Excellence, as a Board Member and Board Compliance Committee Chair for the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas; the Board President of the early childhood development intervention agency, The Richardson Development Center for Children; Chair of the Dallas Bar Association Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Committee; a member of the Board of Directors of the Southwest Benefits Association. For additional information about Ms. Stamer, see here, or the website Stamer ׀ Chadwick ׀ Soefje PLLC.  To contact Ms. Stamer, e-mail her here or telephone (469) 767-8872.

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

Solutions Law Press, Inc.™  provides human resources and employee benefit and other business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other coaching, tools and other resources, training and education on leadership, governance, human resources, employee benefits, data security and privacy, insurance, health care and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and operational concerns. If you find this of interest, you also be interested reviewing some of Ms. Stamer’s publications our other Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ resources such as:


Former National Quality Forum Committee Co-Chair Pays $1M, Excluded From Medicare In Fraud Settlement

March 5, 2015

A former National Quality Forum Committee Safe Practices Co-Chair landed in hot water under the False Claims Act for receiving compensation to use his influence and position to influence safety practices standards.  Patient safety consultant Dr. Charles Denham, will pay $1 million to settle Justice Department allegations that he violated the False Claims Act by soliciting and accepting kickbacks while he co-chaired the Safe Practices Committee 2009 and 2010, according to a Justice Department announcement.   The consulting company Health Care Concepts Inc. and the research organization Texas Medical Institute of Technology, operated by Denham both also are parties to the settlement.

With physicians and other health care organizations increasingly stepping up involvement in credentialing organizations and government advisory and other task forces, the enforcement action highlights another area where health care organizations and their people need to be careful to avoid violations of the False Claims Act or other laws. The settlement illustrates both the need for health care providers participating in HHS or other government advisory or other consulting roles to carefully evaluate their compensation and other arrangements for  illegal remuneration or other prohibited elements in light of the continuing emphasis on and success of the Departments of Health & Human Services (HHS) and Justice in investigating and prosecuting arrangements they view as health care fraud under the Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team (HEAT) initiative announced in 2009.

The charges against Denham resolved by the settlement stem from payments he and his companies received while he co-chaired the Safe Practices Committee.  The Safe Practices Committee reviews, endorses and recommends standardized healthcare performance measures and practices.  The settlement resolves allegations that, under agreements entered into in 2008, Denham received monthly payments from CareFusion Corporation while serving as the co-chair of the Safe Practices Committee.  The Justice Department charged that Denham did not disclose to the committee, or any other individual or component of the National Quality Forum, that he was receiving payments from CareFusion while co-chairing the Committee and that Denham solicited and received these payments in exchange for influencing the recommendations of the National Quality Forum and for recommending, promoting and/or arranging for the purchase of CareFusion’s product, ChloraPrep, in violation of the Federal Anti-Kickback Statute.  The United States alleged that this conduct caused the submission of false or fraudulent claims for ChloraPrep to federal health care programs.

In addition to paying $1 million to the United States, Dr. Denham and his two businesses will be excluded from Medicare, Medicaid and all federal health programs as part of the settlement.

The settlement highlights another example of the widespread success HHS, the Justice Department and other agencies participating in the HEAT initiative in using the False Claims Act against doctors, hospitals and other health care providers and organizations.  Since January 2009, the Justice Department reports recovery of more than $23.8 billion through False Claims Act cases, with more than $15.2 billion of that amount recovered in cases involving fraud against federal health care programs.   With HHS and the Justice Department claiming it recovers an average return of $8 for each $1 invested in health care fraud enforcement, the enforcement initiative is a key player in Federal efforts to control and reduce federal health care expenditures.  The Obama Administration tout the  success of these efforts to fuel Congressional and public support for continuation and expansion of these and other health care fraud enforcement efforts by HHS, the Justice Department and other agencies.

“Kickback schemes undermine the integrity of medical decisions, subvert the health marketplace and waste taxpayer dollars,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Benjamin C. Mizer of the Justice Department’s Civil Division.  “Doctors and other health care professionals who accept illegal inducements undermine the public’s trust in federal health care programs and will continue to be the focus of our enforcement efforts

Given the success of the programs and the HEAT agencies commitment to continuing their heavy-handed enforcement efforts, physicians, hospitals, skilled nursing, home health, durable medical equipment, and other health care providers and their leaders should stay ever diligent in their efforts to maintain compliance and other necessary defenses in anticipation of government scrutiny of their operations and activities.  As part of these efforts, health care providers and organizations serving on advisory task forces or committees to government agencies or to credentialing or standard settling organizations that provide input on regulatory, standard setting or other activities need to use special care to ensure that any potential conflicts of interest are properly identified and disclosed and that the arrangements otherwise are structured and conducted to avoid violations of both the Anti-Kickback and other health care fraud laws and lobbying, conflict of interest and other laws, regulations and policies applicable to those activities.

For More Information Or Assistance

If you need assistance reviewing or responding to these or other health care related risk management, compliance, enforcement or management concerns, the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, may be able to help. Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section, Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law, and the former Board Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, Ms. Stamer has more than 26 years experience advising health industry clients about these and other matters. Her experience includes advising hospitals, nursing home, home health, rehabilitation and other health care providers and health industry clients to establish and administer compliance and risk management policies; prevent, conduct and investigate, and respond to peer review and other quality concerns; and to respond to Board of Medicine, Department of Aging & Disability, Drug Enforcement Agency, OCR Privacy and Civil Rights, Department of Labor, IRS, HHS, DOD and other health care industry investigation, enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns.  The scribe for the American Bar Association (ABA) Joint Committee on Employee Benefits annual agency meeting with the Department of Health & Human Services Office of Civil Rights,  Ms. Stamer has worked extensively with health care providers, health plans, health care clearinghouses, their business associates, employers, banks and other financial institutions, and others on risk management and compliance with HIPAA and other information privacy and data security rules, investigating and responding to known or suspected breaches, defending investigations or other actions by plaintiffs, OCR and other federal or state agencies, reporting known or suspected violations, business associate and other contracting, commenting or obtaining other clarification of guidance, training and enforcement, and a host of other related concerns.  Her clients include public and private health care providers, health insurers, health plans, technology and other vendors, and others.  In addition to representing and advising these organizations, she also has conducted training on Privacy & The Pandemic for the Association of State & Territorial Health Plans,  as well as  HIPAA, FACTA, PCI, medical confidentiality, insurance confidentiality and other privacy and data security compliance and risk management for  Los Angeles County Health Department, ISSA, HIMMS, the ABA, SHRM, schools, medical societies, government and private health care and health plan organizations, their business associates, trade associations and others.

A popular lecturer and widely published author on health industry concerns, Ms. Stamer continuously advises health industry clients about compliance and internal controls, workforce and medical staff performance, quality, governance, reimbursement, and other risk management and operational matters. Ms. Stamer also publishes and speaks extensively on health and managed care industry regulatory, staffing and human resources, compensation and benefits, technology, public policy, reimbursement and other operations and risk management concerns. Her insights on these and other related matters appear in the Health Care Compliance Association, Atlantic Information Service, Bureau of National Affairs, The Wall Street Journal, Business Insurance, the Dallas Morning News, Modern Health Care, Managed Healthcare, Health Leaders, and a many other national and local publications.  You can get more information about her health industry experience here. If you need assistance responding to concerns about the matters discussed in this publication or other health care concerns, wish to obtain information about arranging for training or presentations by Ms. Stamer, wish to suggest a topic for a future program or update, or wish to request other information or materials, please contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (214) 452-8297 or via e-mail here.

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns from Ms. Stamer, see here.

About Solutions Law Press

Solutions Law Press™ provides business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other resources, training and education on human resources, employee benefits, compensation, data security and privacy, health care, insurance, and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and other key operational concerns.

Other Helpful Resources & Other Information

We hope that this information is useful to you.   If you found these updates of interest, you also be interested in one or more of the following other recent articles published on the Coalition for Responsible Health Care Reform electronic publication available here, our electronic Solutions Law Press Health Care Update publication available here, or our HR & Benefits Update electronic publication available hereYou also can get access to information about how you can arrange for training on “Building Your Family’s Health Care Toolkit,”  using the “PlayForLife” resources to organize low-cost wellness programs in your workplace, school, church or other communities, and other process improvement, compliance and other training and other resources for health care providers, employers, health plans, community leaders and others here. If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail by creating or updating your profile here. You can reach other recent updates and other informative publications and resources.

Examples of some of these recent health care related publications include:

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail – by creating or updating your profile here. For important information concerning this communication click here.THE FOLLOWING DISCLAIMER IS INCLUDED TO COMPLY WITH AND IN RESPONSE TO U.S. TREASURY DEPARTMENT CIRCULAR 230 REGULATIONS.  ANY STATEMENTS CONTAINED HEREIN ARE NOT INTENDED OR WRITTEN BY THE WRITER TO BE USED, AND NOTHING CONTAINED HEREIN CAN BE USED BY YOU OR ANY OTHER PERSON, FOR THE PURPOSE OF (1) AVOIDING PENALTIES THAT MAY BE IMPOSED UNDER FEDERAL TAX LAW, OR (2) PROMOTING, MARKETING OR RECOMMENDING TO ANOTHER PARTY ANY TAX-RELATED TRANSACTION OR MATTER ADDRESSED HEREIN.

©2015 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C. Non-exclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.


State Exchange Problems Added ACA Threat Regardless of SCOTUS Decision In King v. Burwell

March 3, 2015

While most Americans are familiar with the well-publicized issues and higher than projected premium costs of coverage offered to Americans enrolling in health care coverage through the federal healthcare marketplace Healthcare.gov created under the health care reforms of the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act (ACA), many Americans are just beginning to recognize the growing problems and concerns emerging with state exchanges in those states that elected to enact their own exchange.  As the Supreme Court prepares to hear arguments in the challenge to the payment of ACA subsidies to individuals in states that elected not to adopt a state-run health care exchangeto pay for coverage purchased through the federal healthcare.gov marketplace in King v. Burwell on Wednesday, March 4, 2015, the growing evidence of rapidly emerging funding and other challenges affecting state-run exchanges raise concerns about the solvency and reliability of coverage promised and purchased through those state-run exchanges.  These state exchange funding difficulties create concerns not only for state lawmakers, but also for the health care providers and patients that are relying upon adequate funding to ensure that patients can receive promised care and coverage and the health care providers caring for these patients will receive promised payment for these services.

During the Congressional debates leading up to the enactment of ACA, for instance, ACA advocates touted the Massachusetts health care mandates and reform law of Massachusetts as part of the model for ACA and evidence of the potential benefits offered by enactment of ACA.  Now Massachusetts officials are blaming ACA for serious underfunding and other problems in their state’s health care connector.

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker recently cited the Health Connector and its challenges in enrolling Massachusetts residents in health insurance plans as part of the Affordable Care Act that forced the state to temporarily transition hundreds of thousands of state residents into the commonwealth’s Medicaid program as a primary reason for the state’s projected $1.5 billion budget deficit.  He now has asked for the resignations of four Massachusetts Health Connector board members:  MIT professor Jonathan Gruber,  Covered California actuarial consultant John Bertko; Massachusetts Nonprofit Network CEO Rick Jakious and Spring Insurance Group CEO George Conser.

The Massachusetts experience is not unique.  Other states also are experiencing significant funding and other problems dealing with the ACA mandates and implementation.  See, e.g.,  Funding Woes Imperil Future of State Run Exchanges;  State Insurance Exchanges Face Challenges In Offering Standardized Choices Alongside Innovative Value-Based Insurance.

This mounting evidence of serious cost, financing and other concerns in state-run exchanges creates new reason for concern about the future of ACA’s health care reforms even for those citizens of states whose eligibility for subsidies is not challenged by the King v. Burwell Supreme Court challenge.   These state exchange funding difficulties create concerns not only for state lawmakers, but also for the health care providers and patients that are relying upon adequate funding to ensure that patients can receive promised care and coverage and the health care providers caring for these patients will receive promised payment for these services.These and other budget overruns and operational challenges raise serious questions about the ability of the federal government or the states to fund the promises currently made by ACA in its present form.  Congress and state governments almost certainly will be forced to deal with these broader challenges regardless of the outcome of King v. Burwell.   As American leaders continue to struggle to deal with these and other mounting problems impacting the U.S. health care system, the input of individual Americans and businesses and community leaders is more critical than ever.  Get involved in helping to shape improvements and solutions to the U.S. health care system and the Americans it cares for by sharing your ideas and input through the Coalition For Responsible Health Care Policy  and exchanging information and ideas for helping American families deal with their family member’s illnesses, disabilities and other healthcare challenges through Project COPE: Coalition for Patient Empowerment here.

About Project COPE: The Coalition On Patient Empowerment &  Coalition on Responsible Health Policy

Do you have ideas or experiences to share about medical debit, ACA or other health care challenges?  Have ideas for helping improve ACA and other health care policies impacting the US health care system, helping Americans cope with these and other health care challenges or other health care matters? Know other helpful resources or experiences that you are willing to share?  Are you concerned about health care coverage or other health care and disability issues or policy concerns?  Join the discussion and share your input by joining Project COPE: Coalition for Patient Empowerment here.

Sharing and promoting the use of practical practices, tools, information and ideas that patients and their families, health care providers, employers, health plans, communities and policymakers can share and offer to help patients, their families and others in their care communities to understand and work together to better help the patients, their family and their professional and private care community plan for and manage these  needs is the purpose of

The Coalition and its Project COPE arise and operate on the belief that health care reform and policy must be patient focused, patient centric and patient empowering.  The best opportunity to improve access to quality, affordable health care for all Americans is for every American, and every employer, insurer, and community organization to seize the opportunity to be good Samaritans.  The government, health care providers, insurers and community organizations can help by providing education and resources to make understanding and dealing with the realities of illness, disability or aging easier for a patient and their family, the affected employers and others. At the end of the day, however, caring for people requires the human touch.  Americans can best improve health care by not waiting for someone else to step up:  Step up and help bridge the gap when you or your organization can. Speak up to help communicate and facilitate when you can.  Building health care neighborhoods filled with good neighbors throughout the community is the key.

The outcome of this latest health care reform push is only a small part of a continuing process.  Whether or not the Affordable Care Act makes financing care better or worse, the same challenges exist.  The real meaning of the enacted reforms will be determined largely by the shaping and implementation of regulations and enforcement actions which generally are conducted outside the public eye.  Americans individually and collectively clearly should monitor and continue to provide input through this critical time to help shape constructive rather than obstructive policy. Regardless of how the policy ultimately evolves, however, Americans, American businesses, and American communities still will need to roll up their sleeves and work to deal with the realities of dealing with ill, aging and disabled people and their families.  While the reimbursement and coverage map will change and new government mandates will confine providers, payers and patients, the practical needs and challenges of patients and families will be the same and confusion about the new configuration will create new challenges as patients, providers and payers work through the changes.

We also encourage you and others to help develop real meaningful improvements by joining Project COPE: Coalition for Patient Empowerment here by sharing ideas, tools and other solutions and other resources. The Coalition For Responsible Health Care Policy provides a resource that concerned Americans can use to share, monitor and discuss the Health Care Reform law and other health care, insurance and related laws, regulations, policies and practices and options for promoting access to quality, affordable healthcare through the design, administration and enforcement of these regulations.

You also may be interested in one or more of the following other recent articles published on the Coalition for Responsible Health Care Reform electronic publication available here, our electronic Solutions Law Press Health Care Update publication available here, or our HR & Benefits Update electronic publication available here such as:

 You also can find out about how you can arrange for training for you, your employees or other communities to participate in training on “Building Your Family’s Health Care Toolkit,”  using the “PlayForLife” resources to organize low-cost wellness programs in your workplace, school, church or other communities, and other process improvement, compliance and other training and other resources for health care providers, employers, health plans, community leaders and others here.

For More Information Or Assistance

If you need assistance reviewing or responding to these or other health care related risk management, compliance, enforcement or management concerns, the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, may be able to help. Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section, Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law, and the former Board Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, Ms. Stamer has more than 26 years experience advising health industry clients about these and other matters. Her experience includes advising hospitals, nursing home, home health, rehabilitation and other health care providers and health industry clients to establish and administer compliance and risk management policies; prevent, conduct and investigate, and respond to peer review and other quality concerns; and to respond to Board of Medicine, Department of Aging & Disability, Drug Enforcement Agency, OCR Privacy and Civil Rights, Department of Labor, IRS, HHS, DOD and other health care industry investigation, enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns.  The scribe for the American Bar Association (ABA) Joint Committee on Employee Benefits annual agency meeting with the Department of Health & Human Services Office of Civil Rights,  Ms. Stamer has worked extensively with health care providers, health plans, health care clearinghouses, their business associates, employers, banks and other financial institutions, and others on risk management and compliance with HIPAA and other information privacy and data security rules, investigating and responding to known or suspected breaches, defending investigations or other actions by plaintiffs, OCR and other federal or state agencies, reporting known or suspected violations, business associate and other contracting, commenting or obtaining other clarification of guidance, training and enforcement, and a host of other related concerns.  Her clients include employers and their health and other employee benefit plans,  public and private health care providers, health insurers, plan fiduciaries and service providers, technology and other vendors, and others.  In addition to representing and advising these organizations, she also has conducted training on Privacy & The Pandemic for the Association of State & Territorial Health Plans,  as well as  HIPAA, FACTA, PCI, medical confidentiality, insurance confidentiality and other privacy and data security compliance and risk management for  Los Angeles County Health Department, ISSA, HIMMS, the ABA, SHRM, schools, medical societies, government and private health care and health plan organizations, their business associates, trade associations and others.

A popular lecturer and widely published author on health industry concerns, Ms. Stamer continuously advises health industry clients about compliance and internal controls, workforce and medical staff performance, quality, governance, reimbursement, and other risk management and operational matters. Ms. Stamer also publishes and speaks extensively on health and managed care industry regulatory, staffing and human resources, compensation and benefits, technology, public policy, reimbursement and other operations and risk management concerns. Her insights on these and other related matters appear in the Health Care Compliance Association, Atlantic Information Service, Bureau of National Affairs, The Wall Street Journal, Business Insurance, the Dallas Morning News, Modern Health Care, Managed Healthcare, Health Leaders, and a many other national and local publications.  You can get more information about her health industry experience here. If you need assistance responding to concerns about the matters discussed in this publication or other health care concerns, wish to obtain information about arranging for training or presentations by Ms. Stamer, wish to suggest a topic for a future program or update, or wish to request other information or materials, please contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (214) 452-8297 or via e-mail here.

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns from Ms. Stamer, see here.

About Solutions Law Press

Solutions Law Press™ provides business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other resources, training and education on human resources, employee benefits, compensation, data security and privacy, health care, insurance, and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and other key operational concerns.

Other Helpful Resources & Other Information

We hope that this information is useful to you.   If you found these updates of interest, you also be interested in one or more of the following other recent articles published on the Coalition for Responsible Health Care Reform electronic publication available here, our electronic Solutions Law Press Health Care Update publication available here, or our HR & Benefits Update electronic publication available hereYou also can get access to information about how you can arrange for training on “Building Your Family’s Health Care Toolkit,”  using the “PlayForLife” resources to organize low-cost wellness programs in your workplace, school, church or other communities, and other process improvement, compliance and other training and other resources for health care providers, employers, health plans, community leaders and others here. If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail by creating or updating your profile here. You can reach other recent updates and other informative publications and resources.

Examples of some of these recent health care related publications include:

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail – by creating or updating your profile here. For important information concerning this communication click here.THE FOLLOWING DISCLAIMER IS INCLUDED TO COMPLY WITH AND IN RESPONSE TO U.S. TREASURY DEPARTMENT CIRCULAR 230 REGULATIONS.  ANY STATEMENTS CONTAINED HEREIN ARE NOT INTENDED OR WRITTEN BY THE WRITER TO BE USED, AND NOTHING CONTAINED HEREIN CAN BE USED BY YOU OR ANY OTHER PERSON, FOR THE PURPOSE OF (1) AVOIDING PENALTIES THAT MAY BE IMPOSED UNDER FEDERAL TAX LAW, OR (2) PROMOTING, MARKETING OR RECOMMENDING TO ANOTHER PARTY ANY TAX-RELATED TRANSACTION OR MATTER ADDRESSED HEREIN.

©2015 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C. Non-exclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.


Health Care Employer’s Discrimination Triggers Medicare, EEOC Prosecutions

March 2, 2015

Health care employers and organizations should review and tighten their employment and other discrimination policies and risk management in light of recent employment discrimination enforcement actions targeting health care organization staffing decisions by the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) Office of Civil Rights (OCR) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

OCR Race Discrimination Medicare Action

A new OCR Voluntary Resolution Agreement with Shiawassee County Medical Facility reminds health care providers of the frequently underappreciated Medicare/Medicaid program participation risks of certain types of employment discrimination to be careful not to allow patient preferences to lead them into the trap of violating the prohibition against race, color, and national origin under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or other federal nondiscrimination laws when making patient staffing assignments.

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination in the administration of any federally-funded program based on race, color, or national origin.   OCR’s longstanding “Guidelines for Compliance of Hospitals with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,” make clear that OCR interprets Title VI prohibits assignment of hospital staff based on the racial preference of the patient.

A newly announced OCR investigation and Resolution Agreement Shiawassee County Medical Care Facility, a 136-bed Medicare and Medicaid certified skilled nursing facility, illustrates the need for Medicare and Medicaid certified health care providers of all types to ensure their compliance with Title VI and, in particular, to refrain from making any staff assignments based on racial considerations.

The Resolution Agreement between OCR and Shiawassee, a 136-bed Medicare and Medicaid certified skilled nursing facility, resolved charges that the facility violated Title VI by giving a nursing staff instruction to not assign African-American staff to a Caucasian Resident. Based on an investigation, OCR found Shiawassee needed to change its policies and procedures to bring them into full compliance with Title VI.  To implement fully the prohibition against consideration of race in staff assignments, Shiawassee signed a with OCR which calls for the appointment of a Title VI Coordinator to oversee Shiawassee’s overall compliance with Title VI including special responsibilities for the investigation and adjudication of any Title VI complaints filed internally with Shiawassee.  In addition, Shiawassee must train its workforce on Title VI, and submit reports to OCR regarding compliance.

The Shiawassee charges and Resolution agreement follow a similar Agreement in August 2014 between OCR and Hurley Medical Center in Flint, Michigan , which also resolved OCR charges arising from that facilities staff assignment based on a patient’s racial preference.  Read the Hurley Agreement here.

Phoenix EEOC ADA Discrimination Action

The HHS against Shiawassee enforcement action coincides with an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announcement of its filing of disability discrimination lawsuit under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) against another health care provider, ValleyLife of Phoenix, Arizona. EEOC charges that ValleyLife engaged in illegal disability discrimination in violation of the ADA when it allegedly fired employees with disabilities instead of providing them with reasonable accommodations when their eligibility for family leave ended under the Family & Medical Leave Act ended and allegedly failed to keep employees’ medical records confidential.  See EEOC v. ValleyLife, Civil Action No. 2:15-cv-00340-GMS (N.Az).

In EEOC v. ValleyLife,  the EEOC charges that ValleyLife fired employees with disabilities rather than provide them with reasonable accommodations due to its inflexible leave policy.  The policy compelled the termination of employees who had exhausted their paid time off and/or any unpaid leave to which they were eligible under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA).   According to the EEOC, ValleyLife fired supervisor, Glenn Stephens, due to his need for further surgery when his FMLA leave eligibility ended.  EEOC claims this termination violated the ADA because ValleyLife did not engage in any interactive process to determine whether any accommodations (including additional leave) were possible.  Stephens had worked for ValleyLife for over ten years at the time of his termination.  The EEOC contends that ValleyLife’s failure to offer extended leave or other accommodation to Stephens when his leave eligibility ended violated the ADA, which protects workers from discrimination based upon disability and requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to the known physical or mental impairments of disabled employees unless doing so would cause an undue hardship.

The suit also alleges that ValleyLife commingled medical records in employee personnel files and failed to maintain these medical records confidential in violation of the medical record confidentiality requirements of the ADA, which requires employees’ to keep medical documents confidential and separate from other personnel records.

The lawsuit seeks lost wages and compensa­tory and punitive damages for the alleged victims, as well as appropriate injunctive relief to prevent discriminatory practices in the future.

Prepare Employment Discrimination Defenses

The OCR action against Shiawassee and the EEOC suit against ValleyLife remind health industry employers of the need to use care to monitor and manage employment discrimination risks.  Health care organizations should avoid the temptation to assume that their organizations can rely upon patient preferences or other common industry concerns to defend against claims of disability, race or other discrimination.  Instead, health care organizations should review and update their policies and practices to ensure that they properly comply with applicable employment and other federal and state disability discrimination law and are operationalized in a manner to create and keep appropriate documentation to defend staffing decisions against potential claims of illegal discrimination under the ADA, Civil Rights, or other laws that could adversely impact their organization’s eligibility to participate in Medicare, Medicaid or other federal programs, trigger judgments or penalties, or both.

Health care organizations also need to exercise care to ensure that their patient access, care and other policies also comply and are administered to withstand scrutiny under Medicare terms of participation, the ADA, the Civil Rights Act and other federal discrimination laws.   These health industry employers should both evaluate their existing policies and practices, as well as their processes for conducting and documenting investigations and other activities associated with the administration of FMLA or other disability accommodation, patient and other staffing and other activities to position their organization to identify potential exposures and position themselves to defend their decisions against OCR, EEOC or other government agency investigations, private plaintiff claims or both.

For More Information Or Assistance

If you need assistance reviewing or responding to these or other health care related risk management, compliance, enforcement or management concerns, the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, may be able to help. Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section, Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law, and the former Board Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, Ms. Stamer has more than 26 years experience advising health industry clients about these and other matters. Her experience includes advising hospitals, nursing home, home health, rehabilitation and other health care providers and health industry clients to establish and administer compliance and risk management policies; prevent, conduct and investigate, and respond to peer review and other quality concerns; and to respond to Board of Medicine, Department of Aging & Disability, Drug Enforcement Agency, OCR Privacy and Civil Rights, Department of Labor, IRS, HHS, DOD and other health care industry investigation, enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns.  The scribe for the American Bar Association (ABA) Joint Committee on Employee Benefits annual agency meeting with the Department of Health & Human Services Office of Civil Rights,  Ms. Stamer has worked extensively with health care providers, health plans, health care clearinghouses, their business associates, employers, banks and other financial institutions, and others on risk management and compliance with HIPAA and other information privacy and data security rules, investigating and responding to known or suspected breaches, defending investigations or other actions by plaintiffs, OCR and other federal or state agencies, reporting known or suspected violations, business associate and other contracting, commenting or obtaining other clarification of guidance, training and enforcement, and a host of other related concerns.  Her clients include public and private health care providers, health insurers, health plans, technology and other vendors, and others.  In addition to representing and advising these organizations, she also has conducted training on Privacy & The Pandemic for the Association of State & Territorial Health Plans,  as well as  HIPAA, FACTA, PCI, medical confidentiality, insurance confidentiality and other privacy and data security compliance and risk management for  Los Angeles County Health Department, ISSA, HIMMS, the ABA, SHRM, schools, medical societies, government and private health care and health plan organizations, their business associates, trade associations and others.

A popular lecturer and widely published author on health industry concerns, Ms. Stamer continuously advises health industry clients about compliance and internal controls, workforce and medical staff performance, quality, governance, reimbursement, and other risk management and operational matters. Ms. Stamer also publishes and speaks extensively on health and managed care industry regulatory, staffing and human resources, compensation and benefits, technology, public policy, reimbursement and other operations and risk management concerns. Her insights on these and other related matters appear in the Health Care Compliance Association, Atlantic Information Service, Bureau of National Affairs, The Wall Street Journal, Business Insurance, the Dallas Morning News, Modern Health Care, Managed Healthcare, Health Leaders, and a many other national and local publications.  You can get more information about her health industry experience here. If you need assistance responding to concerns about the matters discussed in this publication or other health care concerns, wish to obtain information about arranging for training or presentations by Ms. Stamer, wish to suggest a topic for a future program or update, or wish to request other information or materials, please contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (214) 452-8297 or via e-mail here.

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns from Ms. Stamer, see here.

About Solutions Law Press

Solutions Law Press™ provides business risk management, legal compliance, management effectiveness and other resources, training and education on human resources, employee benefits, compensation, data security and privacy, health care, insurance, and other key compliance, risk management, internal controls and other key operational concerns.

Other Helpful Resources & Other Information

We hope that this information is useful to you.   If you found these updates of interest, you also be interested in one or more of the following other recent articles published on the Coalition for Responsible Health Care Reform electronic publication available here, our electronic Solutions Law Press Health Care Update publication available here, or our HR & Benefits Update electronic publication available hereYou also can get access to information about how you can arrange for training on “Building Your Family’s Health Care Toolkit,”  using the “PlayForLife” resources to organize low-cost wellness programs in your workplace, school, church or other communities, and other process improvement, compliance and other training and other resources for health care providers, employers, health plans, community leaders and others here. If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail by creating or updating your profile here. You can reach other recent updates and other informative publications and resources.

Examples of some of these recent health care related publications include:

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns, please be sure that we have your current contact information – including your preferred e-mail – by creating or updating your profile here. For important information concerning this communication click here.THE FOLLOWING DISCLAIMER IS INCLUDED TO COMPLY WITH AND IN RESPONSE TO U.S. TREASURY DEPARTMENT CIRCULAR 230 REGULATIONS.  ANY STATEMENTS CONTAINED HEREIN ARE NOT INTENDED OR WRITTEN BY THE WRITER TO BE USED, AND NOTHING CONTAINED HEREIN CAN BE USED BY YOU OR ANY OTHER PERSON, FOR THE PURPOSE OF (1) AVOIDING PENALTIES THAT MAY BE IMPOSED UNDER FEDERAL TAX LAW, OR (2) PROMOTING, MARKETING OR RECOMMENDING TO ANOTHER PARTY ANY TAX-RELATED TRANSACTION OR MATTER ADDRESSED HEREIN.

©2015 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C. Non-exclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.


Hospital Will Pay $75K For Refusing To Hire Disabled Worker

March 10, 2014

Osceola Community Hospital Refused To Hire Child Care Worker With Cerebral Palsy Who Had Worked As Volunteer

Osceola Community Hospital in Sibley, Iowa will pay $75,000 and furnish other relief to settle an Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) disability discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for its refusal to hire a child care worker with cerebral palsy.  The case shows both the need for health care and other employers to have sufficient evidence to support decisions not to hire disabled workers for safety reasons as well as the potential risks that hospitals or other face when refusing to hire disabled individuals who have been allowed to work as volunteers in their organizations.

The EEOC charged a day care center operated by the hospital, Bright Beginnings of Osceola County, unlawfully failed to hire a volunteer employee into a paid position for which she was qualified because of her cerebral palsy.  Although the woman who brought the charge of discrimination against the hospital already volunteered in the day care center and held a job driving a school bus, the EEOC’s investigation revealed the county refused to hire her into a paying job in the center out of an unfounded fear that her disability meant that she could not safely care for the children.

Judge Mark Bennett entered a consent decree on February, 28, 2014, resolving the brought by the EEOC in EEOC v. Osceola Community Hospital d/b/a Bright Beginnings of Osceola County, Civil Action No. 5:12-cv-4087 (N.D. Iowa, Sept. 26, 2012 that orders Osceola Community Hospital to pay $75,000 to the discrimination victim.  The decree also requires the hospital to institute a policy prohibiting discrimination on the basis of disability and to distribute the policy to all of its employees.  The hospital also must train its employees and report regularly to the EEOC on its compliance with the ADA.

The lawsuit provides another example to health care and other employers of their growing exposure to disability discrimination claims under the ADA.  The EEOC action and lawsuit highlights the importance of employers ensuring that decisions to refuse to hire disabled workers for safety reasons are based upon appropriate evidence of actual safety concerns that prevent the worker from safely performing the assigned duties with or without reasonable accommodation.

The fact that the worker in this case had in fact worked as a volunteer likely created additional challenges in defending the decision.  The use of volunteer workers in health industry businesses is a common practice that may justify special care before those organizations deny employment to a former volunteer on the basis of safety concerns associated with the disabilities of the applicant or worker both to document the reasonable basis of the safety concern and that the concern could not be adequately resolved through reasonable accommodation.

Health Care Providers Must Strengthen Disability Compliance & Risk Management

Employment discrimination isn’t the only disability discrimination risk that hospitals and other health industry organizations need to worry about in today’s liability charged environment.  Enforcing federal discrimination laws is a high priority of the Obama Administration. The Departments of Labor, Health & Human Services, Education, Justice, Housing & Urban Development, and others all have both increased enforcement, audits and public outreach, as well as have sought or are proposing tighter regulations.

The expanding applicability of nondiscrimination rules coupled with the wave of new policies and regulatory and enforcement actions should alert private businesses and state and local government agencies of the need to exercise special care to prepare to defend their actions against potential disability or other Civil Rights discrimination challenges under employment, Medicare, housing and a broad range of other laws.

The Obama Administration is targeting disability discrimination by health care organizations in a broad range of areas as part of its Barrier Free Health Care Initiative (Initiative).  Launched on the 22nd anniversary of the ADA in July 2012, the Initiative is a partnership of the Civil Rights Division and 40 U.S. Attorney’s offices across the nation, that targets ADA and other disability discrimination law enforcement efforts on a critical area for individuals with disabilities.

Part of a broader enforcement initiative of the Obama Administration to enforce and expand federal protections for individuals with disabilities, the Initiative seeks to protect patients with disabilities against illegal disability discrimination by prosecuting health care providers under the ADA and the Rehab Act.

Section 504 of the Rehab Act requires recipients of Medicare, Medicaid, HUD, Department of Education, welfare and most other federal assistance programs funds including health care, education, housing services providers, state and local governments to ensure that qualified individuals with disabilities have equal access to programs, services, or activities receiving federal financial assistance.

The ADA extends the prohibition against disability discrimination to private providers and other businesses as well as state and local governments including but not limited to health care providers reimbursed by Medicare, Medicaid or various other federal programs The ADA requirements extend most federal disability discrimination prohibits to health care and other businesses even if they do not receive federal financial assistance to ensure that qualified individuals with disabilities have equal access to their programs, services or activities.

In many instances, these federal discrimination laws both prohibit discrimination and require health care and other regulated businesses to put in place reasonable accommodations needed to ensure that their services are accessible and available to persons with disabilities.  The public accommodation provisions of the ADA, for instance, generally require those doctors’ offices, medical clinics, hospitals, and other health care providers, as well as other covered businesses to provide people with disabilities, including those with HIV, equal access to goods, services, and facilities.  The ADA also may compel health care providers to adjust their practices for delivering care and/or providing access to facilities to accommodate special needs of disabled individuals under certain circumstances. Meanwhile the Civil Rights Act and other laws prohibit discrimination based on national origin, race, sex, age, religion and various other grounds.  These federal rules impact almost all public and private health care providers as well as a broad range housing and related service providers.

 The  Justice Departments campaign against disability discrimination by health care providers is supported and enhanced by the concurrent efforts of OCR.   Along side the Justice Department’s efforts, OCR recently has announced several settlement agreements and issued letters of findings as part of its ongoing efforts to ensure compliance with the Rehab Act and the ADA well as various other federal nondiscrimination and civil rights laws. Through its own antidiscrimination campaign, OCR is racking up an impressive list of settlements with health care providers, housing and other businesses for violating the ADA, Section 504 or other related civil rights rules enforced by OCR.   See, e.g. Genesis Healthcare Disability HHS OCR Discrimination Settlement Reminder To Use Interpreters, Other Needed Accommodations For Disabled.   Meanwhile, both the Justice Department and OCR also are encouraging victims of discrimination to enforce their rights through private action through educational outreach to disabled and other individuals protected by federal disabilities and other civil rights laws to make them aware of and to encourage them to act to enforce these rights.

Health Care Organizations & Providers Should Act To Manage Patient-Related Disability Discrimination Risks

Prosecutions and settlements by these and other federal agencies show the need for health care providers and other public and private organizations to strengthen their disability discrimination compliance and management practices to defend against rising exposures to actions by the Justice Department, OCR,  the EEOC and other agencies as well as private law suits.  Hospitals, health care clinics, physicians and other health care providers should take steps to guard against joining the growing list of health care providers caught in the enforcement sights of the Initiative by reviewing and updating practices, policies, training and oversight to ensure that their organizations can prevent and defend against charges of disability discrimination.

Defending or paying to settle a disability discrimination charge brought by a private plaintiff, OCR or another agency, or others tends to be financially, operationally and politically costly for a health care organization or public housing provider.  In addition to the expanding readiness of OCR and other agencies to pursue investigations and enforcement of disability discrimination and other laws, the failure of health care organizations to effectively keep up processes to appropriately include and care for disabled other patients or constituents with special needs also can increase negligence exposure, undermine Joint Commission and other quality ratings, undermine efforts to qualify for public or private grant, partnerships or other similar arrangements, and create negative perceptions in the community.

In light of the expanding readiness of the Justice Department, OCR, HUD, EEOC and other agencies to investigate and take action against health care providers for potential violations of the ADA, Section 504 and other federal discrimination and civil rights laws, health care organizations and their leaders should review and tighten their policies, practices, training, documentation, investigation, redress, discipline and other nondiscrimination policies and procedures. In carrying out these activities, organizations and their leaders should keep in mind the critical role of training and oversight of staff and contractors plays in promoting and maintaining required operational compliance with these requirements.  Reported settlements reflect that the liability trigger often is discriminatory conduct by staff, contractors, or landlords in violation of both the law and the organization’s own policies.

To achieve and maintain the necessary operational compliance with these requirements, organizations should both adopt and policies against prohibited discrimination and take the necessary steps to institutionalize compliance with these policies by providing ongoing staff and vendor training and oversight, contracting for and monitoring vendor compliance and other actions.  Organizations also should take advantage of opportunities to identify and resolve potential compliance concerns by revising patient and other processes and procedures to enhance the ability of the organization to learn about and redress potential charges without government intervention.

For More Information Or Assistance

If you need assistance reviewing or tightening your policies and procedures, conducting training or audits, responding to or defending an investigation or other enforcement action or with other health care related risk management, compliance, training, enforcement or management concerns, the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, may be able to help. Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section and the former Board Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, Ms. Stamer has more than 24 years experience advising health industry clients about these and other matters. Her experience includes advising hospitals, nursing home, home health, rehabilitation and other health care providers and health industry clients to establish and administer compliance and risk management policies; prevent, conduct and investigate, and respond to peer review and other quality concerns; and to respond to Board of Medicine, Department of Aging & Disability, Drug Enforcement Agency, OCR Privacy and Civil Rights, HHS, DOD and other health care industry investigation, enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns.

A popular lecturer and widely published author on health industry concerns, Ms. Stamer continuously advises health industry clients about compliance and internal controls, workforce and medical staff performance, quality, governance, reimbursement, and other risk management and operational matters. Ms. Stamer also publishes and speaks extensively on health and managed care industry regulatory, staffing and human resources, compensation and benefits, technology, public policy, reimbursement and other operations and risk management concerns. Her presentations and programs include How to Ensure That Your Organization Is In Compliance With Regulations Governing Discrimination, as well as a wide range of other workshops, programs and publications on discrimination and cultural diversity, as well as a broad range of compliance, operational and risk management, and other health industry matters.

Her insights on these and other related matters appear in the Health Care Compliance Association, Atlantic Information Service, Bureau of National Affairs, World At Work, The Wall Street Journal, Business Insurance, the Dallas Morning News, Modern Health Care, Managed Healthcare, Health Leaders, and a many other national and local publications.  You can get more information about her health industry experience here. If you need assistance responding to concerns about the matters discussed in this publication or other health care concerns, wish to obtain information about arranging for training or presentations by Ms. Stamer, wish to suggest a topic for a future program or update, or wish to request other information or materials, please contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (469) 767-8872 or via e-mail here.

About Solutions Law Press, Inc.™

Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ provides business and management information, tools and solutions, training and education, services and support to help organizations and their leaders promote effective management of legal and operational performance, regulatory compliance and risk management, data and information protection and risk management and other key management objectives.  Solutions Law Press, Inc.™ also conducts and help businesses and associations to design, present and conduct customized programs and training targeted to their specific audiences and needs.  For additional information about upcoming programs, to explore becoming a presenting sponsor for an upcoming event, e-mail your request to info@Solutionslawpress.com   These programs, publications and other resources are provided only for general informational and educational purposes. Neither the distribution or presentation of these programs and materials to any party nor any statement or information provided in or in connection with this communication, the program or associated materials are intended to or shall be construed as establishing an attorney-client relationship, to constitute legal advice or provide any assurance or expectation from Solutions Law Press, Inc., the presenter or any related parties. If you or someone else you know would like to receive future Alerts or other information about developments, publications or programs or other updates, send your request to info@solutionslawpress.com.  CIRCULAR 230 NOTICE: The following disclaimer is included to comply with and in response to U.S. Treasury Department Circular 230 Regulations.  ANY STATEMENTS CONTAINED HEREIN ARE NOT INTENDED OR WRITTEN BY THE WRITER TO BE USED, AND NOTHING CONTAINED HEREIN CAN BE USED BY YOU OR ANY OTHER PERSON, FOR THE PURPOSE OF (1) AVOIDING PENALTIES THAT MAY BE IMPOSED UNDER FEDERAL TAX LAW, OR (2) PROMOTING, MARKETING OR RECOMMENDING TO ANOTHER PARTY ANY TAX-RELATED TRANSACTION OR MATTER ADDRESSED HEREIN.   ©2013 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C. All rights reserved.


Tighten Disability Compliance To Avoid ADA Suits, Program Disqualification & Other Risks

July 30, 2013

The Department of Justice’s July 29, 2013 announcement that it is suing Dr. Hal Brown and Primary Care of the Treasure Coast of Vero Beach, Florida (PCTC) for violating the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) by discriminating and retaliating against two deaf patients reminds physicians, clinics, hospitals and other health industry providers, their landlords, and other vendors to tighten their understanding, practices of federal and state disability discrimination laws to avoid getting nailed for improper discrimination.   Following on the Department of Health & Human Service’s recently announced exclusion of a physician that illegally discriminated against a HIV-positive patient, health care providers are on notice that Federal officials are gunning for health care providers who illegally discriminate against patients and others with disabilities.

With the Justice Department, HHS and others targeting discrimination in the health care industry, physicians and their practices, clinics, hospitals and other private and public health care providers, and their landlords and other vendors should update their understanding of disability discrimination responsibilities and exposures, and then review and tighten policies, practices, workforce training and oversight, and other risk management and compliance practice to help prevent and mitigate exposures to disability and other discrimination claims.

Health Care Providers & Industry Under Fire For Disability Discrimination

While the heavy emphasis generally placed upon the enforcement of disability laws by the Obama Administration has heightened the risks of all U.S. businesses, health care providers are particularly at risk to disability discrimination liability as a result of the Barrier-Free Health Care Initiative of the Justice Department and related health industry disability enforcement initiatives of HHS and other federal agencies.

Health care provider, like other U.S. businesses, face sweeping responsibilities under the various federal laws such as the public accommodation and other disability discrimination prohibitions of the ADA, Section 504, the Civil Rights Act and various other laws. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act generally requires recipients of Medicare, Medicaid, HUD, Department of Education, welfare and most other federal assistance programs funds including health care, education, housing services providers, state and local governments to ensure that qualified individuals with disabilities have equal access to programs, services, or activities receiving federal financial assistance.

The ADA extends the prohibition against disability discrimination to private providers and other businesses as well as state and local governments including but not limited to health care providers reimbursed by Medicare, Medicaid or various other federal programs.  Rather, the ADA requirements and disability discrimination prohibitions generally apply to all U.S. health care and other businesses even if they do not receive federal financial assistance.  Under the ADA, health care providers and other covered businesses generally have a duty other to ensure that qualified individuals with disabilities have equal access to their programs, services or activities.  In many instances, these federal discrimination laws both prohibit discrimination and require health care and other regulated businesses to put in place reasonable accommodations needed to ensure that their services are accessible and available to persons with disabilities.

Specifically under the ADA:

  • The public accommodation provisions generally both prohibit discrimination against individuals with disabilities when delivering health care or other services, as well as require health industry and other businesses to provide reasonable accommodations to individuals with disabilities unless the health care provider proves its actions are defensible under an exception to these general rules.
  • The employment discrimination provisions generally prohibit health care industry and other employers from discriminating against qualified individuals with a disability and require employers to provide reasonable accommodations for disabled workers unless the health care provider can prove that its conduct qualifies under one of the allowable exceptions to the general prohibition against discrimination.
  • The anti-retaliation rules prohibit retaliation against an individual because he opposes an act that is unlawful under the ADA or because he made a charge, testified, assisted or participated in any way in an investigation, proceeding or hearing under the ADA.  These provisions also make it unlawful to coerce, intimidate, threaten or interfere with any individual exercising their rights protected by the ADA.

Meanwhile the Civil Rights Act and other laws prohibit discrimination based on national origin, race, sex, age, religion and various other grounds.  These federal rules impact almost all public and private health care providers as well as a broad range housing and related service providers.

Justice Department ADA Suit Against Brown & PCTC

The ADA lawsuit against Dr. Brown and PCTC comes on the heels of the Justice Department’s Celebration of the 23rd Anniversary of the ADA last week and is an example of one of a growing number of lawsuits and other actions against health care providers resulting from the Justice Department “Barrier-Free Health Care Initiative”  and related Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) enforcement efforts focusing on ensuring access to health care for individuals with disabilities.

The Department of Justice suit charges Dr. Brown and PCTC with violating the public accommodation and anti-retaliation provisions of ADA by discriminating against a deaf couple, Susan and James Liese by discriminating against a deaf couple, Susan and James Liese and then retaliating against the couple for engaging in activities protected under the ADA.

According to the Justice Department’s complaint, Dr. Brown and PCTC terminated Mr. and Mrs. Liese as patients because the couple pursued ADA claims against a hospital located next door to and affiliated with PCTC for not providing effective communication during an emergency surgery.  The complaint alleges that after learning that the Lieses threatened the hospital with an ADA suit based on failure to provide sign language interpreter services, PCTC and Dr. Brown, who was the Liese’s primary doctor at PCTC, immediately terminated the Lieses as patients.

The Justice Department says this termination of the Lieses as patients violated the ADA.  According to Jocelyn Samuels, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, “A person cannot be terminated as a patient because he or she asserts the right to effective communication at a hospital.”

While it remains to be seen if the Justice Department will be successful in its suit against Dr. Brown and PCTC, it has experienced significant success in disability discrimination actions against other health care providers.

Justice Department Barrier-Free Health Care Initiative Successes Growing

Justice Department suits like the ADA suit against Dr. Brown and PCTC are increasingly common and successful.

While the Justice Department across the years has prosecuted various health care providers for illegal discrimination under the ADA, it has turned up the heat with its nationwide Barrier-Free Health Care Initiative.  According to the Justice Department, it intends that the prosecutions under the Barrier-Free Health Care Initiative to focus and leverage the Justice Department’s resources together and send a clear message that disability discrimination in health care is illegal and unacceptable.

Since the Justice Department announced its Barrier-Free Health Care Initiative last year, for instance, the Justice Department has entered into 18 settlements under the Barrier-Free Health Care Initiative.  These include three agreements requiring health care providers to provide auxiliary aids and services, including sign language interpreters, to individuals who are deaf to ensure effective communication in health care settings including two settlements in the last month.

On June 27, 2013, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Tennessee announced that Heart Center of Memphis has agreed to provide qualified sign language and oral interpreters as well as other auxiliary aids and services to patients who are deaf, have hearing loss or have speech disabilities to resolve a Justice Department complaint charging the Heart Center violated the ADA by telling a deaf patient that it was his responsibility to arrange a sign language interpreter for his appointment.  After several unsuccessful attempts to get the Heart Center to provide a qualified sign language interpreter as required by law, the patient cancelled his appointment.

On June 26, 2013, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia announced it had reached a disability discrimination settlement agreement with Midtown Neurology P.C.  The settlement resolved a complaint alleging that Midtown Neurology P.C. failed to provide, over multiple appointments, a qualified sign language interpreter for a patient who is deaf.   At one appointment, the patient underwent a painful neurological test.  Because there was no interpreter, the patient could not communicate that she was frightened and in pain, and that she wanted the doctor to stop the procedure.  Under the agreement, Midtown Neurology P.C. will provide auxiliary aids and services, including qualified interpreters, to individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing where necessary to ensure effective communication.

In previous months, the Justice Department also has reached settlement agreements resolving charges health care providers violated the ADA by failing to provide interpreters or other accommodations for deaf or other communication impaired patients with Burke Health and Rehabilitation Center (May 3, 2013); Monadnock Community Hospital (April 5, 2013); Manassas Health and Rehab Center (April 5, 2013); Gainesville Health and Rehab Center (April 5, 2013); the Center for Orthopaedic and Sports Medicine, Inc. (April 5, 2013); Northern Ohio Medical Specialists (April 5, 2013); Northshore University Healthsystems (June 28, 2012); Steven Senica, M.D., and Senica Bruneau, Ltd. (June 11, 2012); Trinity Regional Medical Center and Trinity Health Systems (March 29, 2012); Henry Ford Health System (February 1, 2012); and Cheshire Medical Center, Keene Health Alliance, and Dartmouth-Hitchcock Clinic D/B/A Dartmouth-Hitchcock Keene (October 31, 2011)

In addition, the Justice Department also particularly is aggressive in prosecuting health care providers that discriminate against individuals with HIV.  In the past six months, the Department reports it has reached five settlement agreements with medical providers to address HIV discrimination.

For instance, the Justice Department on July 26, 2013 announced that Barix Clinics, an organization that operates bariatric treatment facilities in Michigan and Pennsylvania, will pay $35,000 to victim-complainants and a $10,000 civil penalty, train its staff on the ADA and implement an anti-discrimination policy to settle Justice Department charges that Barix Clinics unlawfully refused to perform bariatric surgery on a man at its Langhorne, Pa., facility because he has HIV.  The Department also determined that Barix Clinics cancelled bariatric surgery for another individual at its Ypsilanti, Michigan facility because he has HIV.

The Barix Clinic settlement added to a long list of earlier settlements of ADA charges stemming from discrimination against HIV patients including Glenbeigh (settlement regarding exclusion of an individual from an alcohol treatment program because of the side effects of his HIV medication, March 13, 2013); Woodlawn Family Dentistry (dentist office’s unequal treatment of people with HIV in the scheduling of future dental appointments, February 12, 2013); Castlewood Treatment Center (eating disorder clinic’s refusal to treat a woman for a serious eating disorder because she has HIV, February 6, 2013); and Fayetteville Pain Center (unlawful exclusion of a person with HIV from treatment, January 31, 2013).

While most announced Justice Department settlements involve the denial of interpreters to deaf or other communication impaired patients and discrimination in the treatment of HIV patients, the Justice Department also has shown a willingness to prosecute health care providers who engage in other types of disability discrimination.  For instance, on April 3, 2012, the Justice Department reached a settlement with Richard Noren, M.D., Henry Kurzydlowski, M.D., and Pain Care Consultant, Inc., which resolved charges that they violated the ADA by failing to make reasonable changes to policies, practices, and procedures to enable a child with diabetes to participate in summer camp.  Furthermore, although not necessarily reflected in the currently published, officially announced settlements of the Justice Department, health care providers have reported that the Justice Department and HHS also have become increasingly aggressive in investigating disability claims of visually or other physically, cognitively, or emotionally disabled patients arising from the failure of health care providers to accommodate their need for support or comfort animals.

Justice Department Plans To Keep Heat On Health Care Providers

All signs are that the Justice Department intends to continue, if not expand its Barrier-Free Health Care Initiatives.  In fact, the suit against Dr. Brown and PCTC comes on the heels of the Justice Department’s filing of an ADA disabilities discrimination lawsuit against the State of Florida alleging the state is in violation of the ADA in its administration of its service system for children with significant medical needs.

The Justice Department lawsuit against the State of Florida charges that Florida’s programs have resulted in nearly 200 children with disabilities being unnecessarily segregated in nursing facilities which should be served in their family homes or other community-based settings.  The Justice Department further alleges that the state’s policies and practices place other children with significant medical needs in the community at serious risk of institutionalization in nursing facilities.  The department’s complaint seeks declaratory and injunctive relief, as well as compensatory damages for affected children.

“Florida must ensure that children with significant medical needs are not isolated in nursing facilities, away from their families and communities,” said Eve Hill, Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division.  “Children have a right to grow up with their families, among their friends and in their own communities.  This is the promise of the ADA’s integration mandate as articulated by the Supreme Court in Olmstead.  The violations the department has identified are serious, systemic and ongoing and require comprehensive relief for these children and their families.”

Health Industry Disability Discrimination Risks:  Beyond The Justice Department

While private plaintiffs as well as the Justice Department and other agencies increasingly successfully sue health care providers for violating the ADA and other disability discrimination laws, the often significant damages and defense costs that often arise from these suits are only part of the exposure that health care providers should consider and manage.  Among other things, health care providers accused or found to engage in disability discrimination also generally also risk significant adverse publicity, loss or curtailment of federal or state program participation, reimbursement or other contractual or administrative penalties, licensing board and accreditation sanctions, burdensome corrective action and ongoing reporting and oversight and other consequences.

Perhaps most notably, HHS also is stepping up enforcement against health care providers that discriminate against the disabled.  Like the actions of the Justice Department, many of these enforcement actions focus heavily on discrimination against HIV patients as well as deaf or other individuals whose disabilities impairs their ability to communicate effectively with health care providers.

For instance, on July 18, 2013, HHS announced the termination of Medicaid funding to a California surgeon who intentionally discriminated against an HIV-positive patient by refusing to perform much-needed back surgery. The HHS Departmental Appeals Board concluded that the surgeon violated Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which prohibits disability discrimination by health care providers who receive federal funds. The order follows an Office for Civil Rights (OCR) investigation of a complaint filed by a patient who alleged that the surgeon refused to perform back surgery after learning that the patient was HIV-positive. OCR found that the surgeon discriminated against the patient on the basis of his HIV status in violation of federal civil rights laws. See HHS Press Release; HHS Departmental Appeals Board Decision; OCR Violation Letter of Findings.

HHS’s exclusion of the surgeon from federal program participation is part of a long-standing policy of OCR of pursuing disability discrimination actions against providers that discriminate against patients with HIV.  For instance OCR previously has announced that an Austin, Texas orthopedic surgeon had agreed to ensure that individuals living with HIV/AIDS have equal access to appropriate medical treatment in order to resolve charges brought in an OCR Violation Letter of Finding charging the surgeon with violating the Rehabilitation Act by refusing to perform knee surgery on an HIV-positive patient.  See Settlement Agreement.

OCR, like the Justice Department, also is aggressive in pursuing Rehabilitation Act claims against health care providers for failing to provide interpreters or other appropriate accommodations for deaf or other patients with disabilities that impair their ability to communicate. In March, for instance, OCR announced a settlement agreement with national senior care provider, Genesis HealthCare (Genesis) which resolved an OCR complaint that Genesis violated Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act by failing to provide a qualified interpreter to a resident at its skilled nursing facility in Randallstown, Maryland. See, Genesis Settlement.

OCR construes Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as among other things requiring that facilities take appropriate steps to ensure effective communications with individuals. According to OCR, throughout the patient’s stay at the facility, an OCR investigation showed center staff relied on written notes and gestures to communicate with the resident, even while conducting a comprehensive psychiatric evaluation with him.  Moreover, by not being provided a qualified interpreter, evaluations of his care and discussions on the effects of his numerous medications and the risks caused by not following recommended treatments and prescription protocols had harmful effects on the patient’s overall health status.  According to OCR Director Leon Rodriguez, “This patient’s care was unnecessarily and significantly compromised by the stark absence of interpreter services.” OCR concluded that in order for the patient and staff to be able to communicate effectively with each other regarding treatment, a qualified sign language interpreter would have been necessary.

Under the terms of the agreement, Genesis must require all facilities to provide interpreters and other suitable communications accommodations to language disabled patients, form an auxiliary aids and services hotline; create an advisory committee to provide guidance and direction on how to best communicate with the deaf and hard of hearing community; designate a monitor to conduct a self-assessment and obtain feedback from deaf and hard of hearing individuals and advocates and conduct outreach to promote awareness of hearing impairments and services that are available for deaf and hard of hearing individuals.  In addition Genesis will be required to pay monetary penalties for noncompliance with any terms of the agreement.

In announcing the Genesis settlement, Director Rodriguez warned, “My office continues its enforcement activities and work with providers, particularly large health care systems like Genesis, to make certain that compliance with nondiscrimination laws is a system wide obligation.

The Genesis Agreement is typical of a multitude of settlements resulting from OCR enforcement against health care providers for failing to accommodate deaf, speech or other communication impaired patients.  See, e.g. Cattaraugus County Department of Aging Settlement Agreement; District of Columbia Children and Family Services Agency Settlement Agreement (February 8, 2013); Memorial Health System Colorado Springs  Voluntary Resolution Agreement (November 7, 2012); Advanced Dialysis Centers Settlement Agreement (February  17, 2012).

When evaluating the need to provide interpreters, health care providers also should consider the advisability of offering interpreters for patients whose primary language is not English.  OCR’s discrimination enforcement efforts often extend to other language impaired persons such as English as a Second Language patients.  In addition to its efforts on behalf of individuals with disabilities impacting their ability to communicate, OCR recently announced a national initiative under which it will conduct compliance reviews of critical access hospitals as part of its efforts to strengthen language access for individuals whose primary language is not English.  See OCR Launches Nationwide Compliance Review Initiative To Strengthen Language Access Programs At Critical Access Hospitals.

Health care providers also should ensure that their take appropriate steps to accommodate other disabilities.  For instance, the use of support animals by veterans, children, and other patients with physical, emotional or cognitive disorders on the rise, health care providers need to ensure that their policies, practices, training, facilities leases and other vendor contracts, posting and other arrangements are updated to accommodate patients requiring the use of support or comfort animals.  OCR’s enforcement actions already have extended to protection of the rights of disabled individuals to have the aid and assistance of their service animals when receiving services from health care providers.  For instance, under a settlement agreement with the St. Mercy Medical Center (Mercy) in Fort Smith, Arkansas resolving an OCR complaint that it violated Section 504 and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Mercy committed to revise it policies and procedures to comply with Section 504 and to provide staff comprehensive training on their obligations to provide services without discrimination to qualified persons with disabilities. This settlement follows an OCR investigation into a complaint filed by an individual whose service animal was not allowed to go with him into the hospital.  See, Mercy Settlement Agreement. This recent newscast video highlights how the failure to update postings, training, and other practices could result in a host of negative publicity and enforcement actions from refusing or limiting the ability of a person with a disability to have the support of his comfort animal within a health care facility. North Texas Vet Cries Foul After Service Dog Rejection.  This type of adverse publicity not only can do serious damage to a health care provider’s public image, it also is likely to trigger the type of investigation that lead to the Mercy enforcement action.

Other Disability Discrimination Risks

Defending or paying to settle a disability discrimination charge brought by a private plaintiff, OCR or another agency, or others tends to be financially, operationally and politically costly for a health care organization or public housing provider.  In addition to the expanding readiness of OCR, the Justice Department and other agencies to pursue investigations and enforcement of disability discrimination and other laws, physicians and other licensed professionals can expect that they may face disciplinary action by their applicable licensing boards, whose rules typically now make disability or other wrongful discrimination against patients a violation of their rules.  Meanwhile, the failure of health care organizations to effectively maintain processes to appropriately include and care for disabled other patients or constituents with special needs also can increase negligence exposure, undermine Joint Commission and other quality ratings, undermine efforts to qualify for public or private grant, partnerships or other similar arrangements, and create negative perceptions in the community.

Act To Manage & Mitigate Disability Risks

In the face of these growing risks ,  physicians, hospitals and their medical staffs, and other health care providers should review and tighten their policies, leases and other vendor contracts, practices and training to minimize their exposure to prosecution or other sanctions for disability discrimination.

In light of the expanding readiness of OCR, the Justice Department and other agencies to investigate and take action against health care providers for potential violations of the ADA, Section 504 and other federal discrimination and civil rights laws, health care organizations and their leaders should review and tighten their policies, practices, training, documentation, investigation, redress, discipline and other nondiscrimination policies and procedures.

Given a series of recent changes in the provisions of the ADA, discrimination regulations, and enforcement standards, this process generally should begin by reviewing the health care provider’s understanding and policies regarding disability and other discrimination to ensure that they comply with current legal and credentialing requirements and standards.  Once the organization confirms its understanding of current rules is up-to-date, the health care provider also should critically evaluate its operations to identify where its postings, policies, training, practices and operations need to be updated or tightened to meet these standards or avoid other risks.

In carrying out these activities, organizations and their leaders should keep in mind the critical role of training and oversight of staff and contractors plays in promoting and maintaining required operational compliance with these requirements.  Reported settlements reflect that the liability trigger often is discriminatory conduct by staff, contractors, or landlords in violation of both the law and the organization’s own policies.

To meet and maintain the necessary operational compliance with these requirements, organizations should both adopt and policies against prohibited discrimination and take the necessary steps to institutionalize compliance with these policies by providing ongoing staff and vendor training and oversight, contracting for and monitoring vendor compliance and other actions.  Organizations also should take advantage of opportunities to identify and resolve potential compliance concerns by revising patient and other processes and procedures to enhance the ability of the organization to learn about and redress potential charges without government intervention.

For More Information Or Assistance

If you need assistance reviewing or tightening your policies and procedures, conducting training or audits, responding to or defending an investigation or other enforcement action or with other health care related risk management, compliance, training, enforcement or management concerns, the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, may be able to help. Vice President of the North Texas Health Care Compliance Professionals Association, Past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Section and the former Board Compliance Chair of the National Kidney Foundation of North Texas, Ms. Stamer has more than 24 years experience advising health industry clients about these and other matters. Her experience includes advising hospitals, nursing home, home health, rehabilitation and other health care providers and health industry clients to establish and administer compliance and risk management policies; prevent, conduct and investigate, and respond to peer review and other quality concerns; and to respond to Board of Medicine, Department of Aging & Disability, Drug Enforcement Agency, OCR Privacy and Civil Rights, HHS, DOD and other health care industry investigation, enforcement and other compliance, public policy, regulatory, staffing, and other operations and risk management concerns.

A popular lecturer and widely published author on health industry concerns, Ms. Stamer continuously advises health industry clients about compliance and internal controls, workforce and medical staff performance, quality, governance, reimbursement, and other risk management and operational matters. Ms. Stamer also publishes and speaks extensively on health and managed care industry regulatory, staffing and human resources, compensation and benefits, technology, public policy, reimbursement and other operations and risk management concerns. Her presentations and programs include How to Ensure That Your Organization Is In Compliance With Regulations Governing Discrimination, as well as a wide range of other workshops, programs and publications on discrimination and cultural diversity, as well as a broad range of compliance, operational and risk management, and other health industry matters.

Her insights on these and other related matters appear in the Health Care Compliance Association, Atlantic Information Service, Bureau of National Affairs, World At Work, The Wall Street Journal, Business Insurance, the Dallas Morning News, Modern Health Care, Managed Healthcare, Health Leaders, and a many other national and local publications.  You can get more information about her health industry experience here. If you need assistance responding to concerns about the matters discussed in this publication or other health care concerns, wish to obtain information about arranging for training or presentations by Ms. Stamer, wish to suggest a topic for a future program or update, or wish to request other information or materials, please contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at (214) 452-8297 or via e-mail here.

If you or someone else you know would like to receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns from Ms. Stamer, see  here. About Solutions Law Press

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©2013 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer, P.C.  Non-exclusive license to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.


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