One of the many challenging issues that arises during a pandemic is how resources should be distributed if they become scarce. Facing the possibility of scarce resources can be frightening for families of people with disabilities who wonder if their loved one will have the same access to life-saving medical equipment that others have.
The United States Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Civil Rights (OCR) is responsible for protecting the rights of people with disabilities, including rights related to medical care.
On March 28, OCR issued this Bulletin on Civil Rights Laws and HIPAA Flexibilities That Apply During the COVID-19 Emergency. OCR Director Roger Sevirno states in the Bulletin:
“HHS is committed to leaving no one behind during an emergency, and this guidance is designed to help health care providers meet that goal. Persons with disabilities, with limited English skills, or needing religious accommodations should not be put at the end of the line for health services during emergencies. Our civil rights laws protect the equal dignity of every human life from ruthless utilitarianism.”
OCR and disability rights groups have recently investigated several states’ guidelines that include disability as a factor in determining how ventilators should be allocated if they are scarce. On April 8, the State of Alabama removed language from its guidelines that allowed intellectual disability to be used as a factor in determining access to ventilators. You can read more about that decision here.
The Center for Public Integrity just issued this report that gives an overview of state guidelines regarding the allocation of ventilators. You can read a particular state’s guidelines by clicking that state on the map in the article. Mississippi’s guidelines are described as “vague but do not have any of the specific problems disability advocates have pointed out in other states.”
In Mississippi, the two primary state agencies that oversee the allocation of resources in a pandemic are the Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH) and the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency (MEMA). If you have questions for either agency about resource allocation or anything else related to the COVID-19 outbreak, we encourage you to contact the MSDH through its 24/7 COVID 19 hotline (877-978-6453) and MEMA through its hotline (800-626-4959) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org) for inclusive disaster strategies.
Disability Rights Mississippi (DRMS) has written Governor Tate Reeves a letter “requesting that the state of Mississippi take immediate affirmative action prohibiting discriminatory rationing of live-saving medical equipment throughout the duration of the COVID-19 emergency.” You can see a PDF of the letter here.
If you have questions about the OCR Bulletin you can contact OCR at OCRMail@hhs.gov or call the OCR toll-free phone line at (1-800–368–1019), (TTY: 1-800-537-7697) for further information.
[Image credit: Center for Public Integrity.]