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Positive Policy:

Increasing Access to Health Care for People Living With HIV: We Need Your Help

By Georgina Verdugo

March 23, 2010

This article was cross-posted from the AIDS.gov blog. Georgina Verdugo is Director of the Office for Civil Rights (OCR), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)

Georgina Verdugo, Director, Office for Civil Rights (OCR)

Georgina Verdugo, Director, Office for Civil Rights (OCR)

Earlier this week, OCR entered into a settlement agreement with the Windsor Rosewood Care Center, LLC (WRCC), a Contra Costa County, California nursing home, which agreed to provide individuals living with HIV equal access to its facility, as required by Federal law. This settlement resulted from a discrimination complaint initiated by a case manager who reported that two months before her client died, he was denied admission to the Contra Costa nursing home because he had AIDS. (When we use the term "living with HIV," we mean both AIDS and HIV-positive status).

A few years ago, OCR entered into a similar settlement with the A.T. Associates nursing home chain in Alameda County, California. That settlement resulted from a discrimination complaint initiated by a hospital social worker who also reported that her client had been denied admission to a nursing home because he is HIV-positive.

In the 1980s, many of our families were touched by AIDS and we lost many young colleagues and friends. Today, we are grateful that as treatments improve, more individuals with HIV are leading long lives and becoming seniors. Some of these seniors, inevitably, will need nursing home care.

At OCR, we will not tolerate nursing homes which deny admission to individuals solely because they are HIV-positive. The Department of Health and Human Services is committed to ensuring access to health care for all Americans; and OCR will act diligently to eliminate unlawful discrimination in health care settings, including public and private nursing homes. But to do that, we need your help.

As the Windsor Rosewood and A.T. Associates nursing home cases illustrate, for us to do our work at OCR, we need to hear from people living with HIV and their advocates, including their attorneys, social workers, and case managers.

OCR is the sole HHS agency with the authority to enforce Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504), which prohibits disability discrimination in programs or activities receiving Federal financial assistance, including Medicaid and Medicare Part A reimbursements; and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (the ADA), which prohibits disability discrimination by state and local government agencies, such as state-operated nursing homes. Federal courts have long held that AIDS and HIV-positive status are disabilities for purposes of Section 504 and the ADA.

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If you feel that a nursing home, hospital, doctor, or other health care provider receiving federal financial assistance from HHS, or a state or local government agency, has discriminated against you (or your client, relative or friend) on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, or disability (including AIDS and HIV-positive status), you may file a discrimination complaint with the HHS Office for Civil Rights on-line.

If you file a discrimination complaint with OCR, one of our ten Regional Offices will investigate your complaint. If OCR concludes that the health care provider or local agency has discriminated against you, then OCR will issue a Violation Letter of Finding. The provider or agency will be given an opportunity to resolve the Violation Letter of Finding through settlement. If the provider or agency is not willing to settle, OCR has the authority to initiate enforcement proceedings to suspend Federal financial assistance, including Medicaid and Medicare Part A reimbursements, to the provider or agency.

The bottom line is that OCR will diligently investigate discrimination complaints filed by individuals living with HIV. If you are an advocate, attorney, social worker, case manager or an individual living with HIV, we want to hear from you and we need your help to protect the civil rights of all Americans.

See Also
More Info on Basic Legal Rights for HIV-Positive People
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