OCR and Connecticut Agree on Hospital Visitation Policies for People with Disabilities

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the U.S Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has announced an Early Case Resolution (ECR) with the State of Connecticut after the state issued an executive order regarding non-visitation policies for short-term hospitals, outpatient clinics, and outpatient surgical facilities to ensure that people with disabilities are not denied reasonable access to needed support persons.

In May 2020, OCR received complaints that Connecticut guidance concerning hospital “no visitor” policies during the COVID-19 pandemic allowed only narrow exceptions for support persons for individuals with disabilities receiving certain services from the state Department of Developmental Services (DDS). OCR reviewed the complaints and worked with the Connecticut Department of Public Health to develop a resolution of the matters acceptable to all parties.

As part of the resolution, Connecticut is issuing an executive order to ensure that people with disabilities have “reasonable access” to support personnel in hospital settings in a manner that is consistent with disability rights laws and the health and safety of patients, health care providers, and support persons. The order includes establishing a statewide policy requiring hospitals and other acute care settings to permit the entrance of a designated support person for a patient with a disability and permitting family members, service-providers or other individuals knowledgeable about the needs of the person with a disability to serve as a designated support person. Where patients with a disability are in such a setting for longer than one day, they may designate two support persons, provided only one is present at a time.

“I am pleased to have worked with the Governor’s Office, the Department of Public Health, and the HHS Office for Civil Rights to issue the DPH order that protects the rights of individuals with disabilities and facilitates a process to allow every voice, even in a hospital setting, to be heard,” said Jordan A. Scheff, Commissioner of the Department of Developmental Services.

“We cannot commend Connecticut enough for quickly updating its policies to protect the right of persons with disabilities to equal treatment especially during a crisis,” said Roger Severino, Director of OCR. “This resolution proves that states can keep people safe during this pandemic without sacrificing the right of persons with disabilities to the support they need to receive equal access to medical care and treatment,” Severino concluded.

FMI: Connecticut’s executive order is available at https://portal.ct.gov/-/media/Coronavirus/20200609-DPH-Order-regarding-patients-with-disabilities-in-health-care-facilities.pdf.