HHS Investigating Complaints Over Ventilator Rationing in Disabled

What your doctor is reading on Medscape.com:

MARCH 28, 2020 — The federal government is investigating complaints from advocates that some states are formulating plans to ration ventilators and other crucial treatments for COVID-19 that they say discriminate against people with disabilities.

“We’re in the process of opening investigations right now,” said Roger Severino, director of the Health and Human Services (HHS) department’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR), in a briefing with reporters today.

Severino would not discuss details of the complaints. A handful of groups, including the Arc of the United States, have publicly said they’ve filed complaints with OCR about plans in Washington state, Alabama, and Tennessee.

The Washington plan, the complaint said, “gives priority to treating people who are younger and healthier and leaves those who are older and sicker — people with disabilities — to die.” 

The Alabama Department of Public Health’s Emergency Operations Plan orders hospitals to “not offer mechanical ventilator support for patients” with “severe or profound mental retardation,” “moderate to severe dementia,” and “severe traumatic brain injury,” according to the complaint.

The move comes as hospitals, states, and healthcare providers continue to express concerns that the US does not have enough ventilators to meet what is expected to be an overwhelming demand. President Donald Trump invoked the Defense Production Act yesterday, ordering General Motors to speed up production of ventilators.

Severino said it appears that the ventilator supply is sufficient, but acknowledged that could change. To anticipate potentials and “what-ifs,” said Severino, the OCR issued a six-page bulletin outlining civil rights statutes.

The bulletin is meant “to inform states and healthcare providers that civil rights laws will still apply in this context, especially when it comes to persons with disabilities or older persons,” Severino said, in the bulletin.

The bulletin states that people with disabilities “should not be denied medical care on the basis of stereotypes, assessments of quality of life, or judgments about a person’s relative ‘worth’ based on the presence or absence of disabilities,” and that treatment decisions “should be based on an individualized assessment of the patient based on the best available objective medical evidence.”

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