No Visitor Policy Denies Rights of Hospitalized Patients with Disabilities to Have Support Person

Posted on

January 13, 2021

Beth Mitchell, Attorney

Edie Surtees, Communications Director

Disability Rights Texas, National and Texas Advocacy Groups File Discrimination Complaint Over Memorial Hermann Hospital Systems’ “No Visitor” Policy and Practice

AUSTIN — On January 13, 2021, Disability Rights Texas (DRTx) filed a formal Complaint with the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) for the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, urging the agency to swiftly investigate and act against Memorial Hermann Health Systems (MHHS) for its “No Visitor” policy that fails to ensure that patients with disabilities receive reasonable accommodations and equal access to medical care during the COVID-19 pandemic.

DRTx is joined in the filing by the Texas advocacy organizations The Arc of Texas, ADAPT of Texas, the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities, Protect Texas Fragile Kids, along with the national organizations The Arc of the United States, the Center for Public Representation, the National Down Syndrome Society, and Justice in Aging.

“Despite our written demand to MHHS that its ‘No Visitor’ policy violates federal law by discriminating against patients with disabilities who require a support person with them in the hospital, MHHS refused to revise its policy and practice,” said Beth Mitchell, DRTx Attorney.

MHHS’s current visitation policy for its hospitals states that the “No Visitor” policy at all Memorial Hermann facilities to limit potential exposure (with limited exceptions) will remain in place.

The Complaint states that while MHHS’s public facing “No Visitor” policy suggests that “limited exceptions” are available, it fails to expressly list or identify the exceptions or explain how to request an exception, and that these failures caused MHHS to deprive a recent patient with disabilities of her right to a needed support person for over a week while she was at an MHHS hospital, despite her family’s repeated requests.

“Without enumerated exceptions to the ‘No Visitor’ policy, and with no standards for MHHS staff to grant an exception should a patient somehow discover how to request one, MHHS’s unlawful policy and practice fails to protect the rights and health of patients with disabilities being treated at MHHS,” said Terry Anstee, DRTx Attorney.

Additionally, the Complaint states that MHHS’s unlawfully vague and restrictive policy, which allows MHHS to discriminate against persons with disabilities, is unfortunately in keeping with the problematic Texas Health and Human Services Commission’s (HHSC) revised emergency rule concerning visitor access during the COVID-19 pandemic that removed the provision guaranteeing support persons a right of entry to the hospital when essential to support a patient with a disability. A Complaint against HHSC is currently pending at OCR.

As explained in the Complaint, MHHS’s vague and restrictive “No Visitor” policy and practice deny individuals with disabilities equal access to medical treatment by:

  • Denying individuals effective communication;
  • Depriving individuals of their right to make informed decisions and provide informed consent;
  • Subjecting individuals to the unnecessary use of physical and chemical restraints;
  • Denying individuals adequate and necessary medical treatment and care; and,
  • Subjecting individuals to substantial and lasting emotional harm.

Many people with disabilities, including older adults, are at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19 and experiencing life-threatening complications from the virus, while many need hospitalization for other reasons. It is critical that such persons, regardless of their COVID-19 status, have access to support persons who can help to effectively communicate with medical personnel and have access to necessary care while in the hospital.

Read the full OCR Complaint or see the attachment below.

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Disability Rights Texas (previously named Advocacy Inc.) is the federally designated legal protection and advocacy agency (P&A) for people with disabilities in Texas established in 1977. Its mission is to help people with disabilities understand and exercise their rights under the law, ensuring their full and equal participation in society. Visit www.DRTx.org for more information.

Attached documents