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RI, MA Skilled Nursing Facilities Resolve Discrimination Allegations

Twelve Rhode Island and Massachusetts skilled nursing facilities resolved allegations claiming involvement in discriminatory practices that violated the ADA.

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR), along with the US attorney’s offices in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, reached an agreement with 12 of Genesis HealthCare’s skilled nursing facilities across Rhode Island and Massachusetts to settle discrimination allegations.

The allegations claimed that the facilities denied admission to potential residents because they were being treated for opioid use disorder (OUD) with an FDA-approved medical treatment. The alleged discrimination is in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Rehabilitation Act, and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

"The ADA is the law of the land, and the ADA makes it illegal to discriminate against people with disabilities – including Opioid Use Disorder," acting US Attorney for the District of Massachusetts Nathaniel R. Mendell, stated in the press release.

"All providers must comply with the ADA, and we are happy to vindicate the rights of those in recovery by protecting their fair access to necessary treatment."

Genesis HealthCare did not admit to the allegations but agreed to pay a $60,000 civil penalty. Genesis will also enact a non-discrimination policy and educate its employees on civil rights laws. If Genesis complies, $50,000 of the penalty fee will be forgiven.

The allegations arose when people undergoing treatment for OUD were denied an open bed in the facility due to their Suboxone prescription.

“In April 2019, when a hospital requested an available bed for its patient who needed skilled nursing services, one of the Designated Genesis Facilities’ staff said that they were unable to take the individual due to his prescription of Suboxone to treat his OUD,” the voluntary resolution agreement stated.

The prospective residents were seeking admission for medical conditions that were unrelated to OUD but would require the skilled nursing facilities to administer medications for OUD while residing in the facility. OUD is acknowledged as a disability under civil rights laws.

"As Rhode Island and the rest of the country continues to confront an overdose crisis, individuals in recovery should never have to face discriminatory barriers to healthcare," Acting United States Attorney Richard Myrus explained.

"Elimination of these discriminatory barriers is not only a right under federal civil rights laws, it can be a matter of life and death. We appreciate Genesis's cooperation in modifying its policies for compliance with the ADA, and we encourage other skilled nursing facilities to proactively do the same."

Over 70 percent of overdose deaths in 2019 involved opioids, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). From 1999 to 2019, over 500,000 people died from opioid overdoses, and numbers continue to increase with the rising availability of synthetic opioids.

"Secretary Becerra has made advancing the goal of ending the Opioid Crisis a key priority for HHS, particularly since the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated this deadly crisis,” acting OCR Director Robinsue Frohboese explained.

“This agreement and the steps that Genesis is taking across its facilities advances this important goal by ensuring civil rights laws protect healthcare access for people who are in treatment for Opioid Use Disorder.”

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