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U.S. Attorney’s Office settles disability discrimination complaint with skilled Nursing Facility

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The U.S. Attorney’s Office and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights reached an agreement today with The Oaks, a skilled nursing facility in New Bedford, to resolve an allegation that the facility denied admission to individuals being treated with medications for Opioid Use Disorder (OUD) in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

“Opioid Use Disorder is a recognized disability under the ADA, and providers who fail to treat it as such operate outside the law,” said Acting United States Attorney Nathaniel R. Mendell. “This settlement is the latest demonstration of our unending commitment to vindicate the rights of disabled people – and it will not be the last.”

“Health care providers should not base decisions about patients with Opioid Use Disorder on stereotypes or misconceptions about their disability.  People with OUD do not lose their civil rights because they are prescribed certain medications and OCR is committed to ensuring that people with OUD do not face discrimination in health care settings or other areas of life,” said Lisa J. Pino, Director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office for Civil Rights.

The complaint alleges that in February 2019, a hospital requested an available bed for a patient in need of skilled nursing services. The Oaks responded saying it could not accept the individual because he was prescribed Suboxone (buprenorphine and naloxone), a medication to treat OUD. The complaint prompted investigation – pursuant to the ADA, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act – into The Oaks’ practice of denying admission to individuals who take medication prescribed to treat OUD. Individuals receiving treatment for OUD are generally considered disabled under federal civil rights laws, which prohibits private healthcare providers from discriminating on the basis of disability.

Under the terms of the agreement, The Oaks will, among other things, adopt a non-discrimination policy, revise its admissions policy and provide training to its admissions staff. The Oaks will also pay the United States a $5,000 civil penalty.

Since May 2018, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has settled with nine healthcare providers to resolve ADA violations related to OUD treatment.

Acting U.S. Attorney Mendell and HHS OCR Director Pino made the announcement today. Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregory Dorchak of Mendell’s Civil Rights Unit handled the matter.

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