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Office of Civil Rights Underscores Civil Rights Protection During COVID-19

On July 20, 2020, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued guidance focused on federal financial assistance recipients’ compliance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VI prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin. The bulletin also highlights initiatives and funding opportunities by OCR and HHS focused on removing discriminatory barriers that impede equal access to quality healthcare.

IN DEPTH


As the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic continues to affect the United States, current data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that the virus disproportionately affects racial and ethnic minority groups. To help ensure that these disparities are addressed, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a bulletin guidance document on July 20, 2020, titled “Civil Rights Protections Prohibiting Race, Color and National Origin Discrimination During COVID-19.”

The bulletin focuses on federal financial assistance recipients’ compliance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VI prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin by recipients of federal financial assistance. Title VI prohibits “both intentional discrimination and methods of administration that have a disproportionate and adverse impact on the basis of race, color, or national origin.”

The bulletin provides specific guidance points to help ensure Title VI compliance by funding recipients, including:

  • Adopting policies to prevent and address harassment or other unlawful discrimination

  • Confirming that existing policies and procedures do not exclude or otherwise deny persons on the basis of race, color or national origin

  • Ensuring that community-based testing sites and alternate care sites are accessible to racial and ethnic minority populations

  • Ensuring that individuals from racial and ethnic minority groups are not subjected to excessive wait times, rejected for hospital admissions or denied access to intensive care units compared to similarly situated non-minority individuals

  • Providing ambulance service, non-emergency medical transportation and home health services (if part of the recipient’s offered services) to all neighborhoods within the recipient’s service area, without regard to race, color or national origin

  • Appointing or selecting individuals to participate as members of a planning or advisory body as part of the funding recipient’s program, without exclusions on the basis of race, color or national origin

  • Assigning staff, including physicians, nurses and volunteer caregivers, without regard to race, color or national origin

  • Assigning beds and rooms without regard to race, color or national origin

  • Making available to patients, beneficiaries and customers information on how the funding recipient does not discriminate on the basis of race, color or national origin in accordance with applicable laws and regulations.

In addition to providing guidance on how to comply with Title VI, the bulletin highlights several OCR and HHS initiatives to “identify the populations most vulnerable to COVID-19 and to improve prevention, testing, and treatment in these populations.” These initiatives include:

Key Takeaways

As federal funding recipients, including state and local agencies, hospitals and other healthcare providers, continue to take steps to serve their communities and address the COVID-19 public health emergency, the OCR bulletin reminds these recipients of federal funds to ensure that they are adequately and appropriately serving their entire community. Undertaking additional compliance efforts in a time of limited resources and amid the unique demands of the pandemic may be challenging for providers, but OCR continues to place a priority on taking active steps to address health inequities affecting minority communities and to remove discriminatory barriers that impede equal access to quality healthcare.

Jackson Lewis P.C. © 2020National Law Review, Volume X, Number 211

TRENDING LEGAL ANALYSIS


About this Author

Danielle Scheer Health Lawyer McDermott Will Emery Law Firm
Associate

Danielle N. Scheer* advises clients on transactional and regulatory health law matters. She is certified in public health by the National Board of Public Health Examiners and served as a researcher at the National Institutes of Health, and as a principal investigator and interim grant manager with the Florida Department of Health’s Disability and Health Program prior to attending law school.

While in law school, Danielle served as judicial intern to the Hon. Paul C. Huck of the US District Court for the Southern District of Florida. She also served as Editor in Chief of the ...

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Sandra DiVarco Healthcare Attorney Health Systems Lawyer McDermott Will Emery Law Firm
Partner

Sandra DiVarco is a partner in the law firm of McDermott Will & Emery LLP and is based in the Firm’s Chicago office. Sandy focuses her practice on the representation of hospitals and health systems. She has counseled health care facility and system clients regarding all aspects of health law transactions and health system restructurings. As a registered nurse, Sandy regularly advises clients on the legal aspects of clinical issues and policy/procedure matters. Sandy also has significant experience in assisting clients with regulatory, licensure and accreditation issues, including state-level and CMS survey responses, formulation of successful Plans of Correction, Joint Commission complaint responses and EMTALA/regulatory investigations. Sandy is a member of the Firm’s Catholic Organizations Practice Group, and has experience working with Catholic organizations within health care and other business areas. She is also co-leader of the Firm’s General Institutional Provider affinity group. 

In addition to maintaining an active transactional practice, Sandy has a deep knowledge of regulatory, licensing and accreditation issues of particular concern to health care providers in today’s heightened enforcement climate. Sandy regularly advises clients on the legal aspects of clinical regulatory issues and policy/procedure and operational matters. A significant component of her practice involves assisting health care provider clients across the United States with regulatory, licensure and accreditation issues, including state-level and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) survey responses, formulation of successful plans of correction, Joint Commission complaint responses and Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA)/regulatory investigations. Drawing on her experience as a registered nurse, and holding a current license in the state of Illinois, Sandy brings a pragmatic perspective and first-hand knowledge of health care operations to these complex and mission-critical matters.

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