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HHS Announces Resolution Agreement After Patient Alleges Disability Discrimination

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The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced a voluntary resolution agreement on Thursday between the HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR), the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan, and the Great Lakes Surgical Associates (GLSA) after a complaint alleged that GLSA refused to evaluate a patient because of their HIV status.

The complainant, who lives with HIV, said their physician made a referral to Michigan bariatric surgery provider GLSA to receive an evaluation for bariatric surgery to address the patient’s diabetes and high blood pressure, but on Nov. 15, 2016, GLSA refused to fully examine nor provide surgery after the surgeon learned of the patient’s HIV status, telling the patient they were “high risk,” according to the agreement. The Department of Justice (DOJ) investigated the claims and found that GLSA had discriminated against the patient because of their HIV status, which is considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The resolution agreement outlined GLSA’s obligations to comply with the ADA, including not denying patients “the opportunity to participate in or benefit from its goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations” nor applying any eligibility criteria meant to deny patients based on disability. GLSA will be required to appoint an employee to coordinate ADA compliance efforts, including conducting training sessions, maintaining records and compliance reports, revising policies, and investigating claims.

GLSA also will award damages of $37,000 to the complainant.

“The HHS Office for Civil Rights is committed to ensuring that all individuals with disabilities are afforded an equal opportunity to participate in and benefit from health care programs and services,” acting OCR Director Robinsue Frohboese said. “Discrimination against individuals with HIV in health care or human services is unlawful and we will continue to take appropriate steps to remedy discrimination when it occurs and provide consumers with knowledge about their rights and providers with awareness of their obligations.”

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