Civil Rights, HIPAA and COVID-19

Mary Madison, RN, RAC-CT, CDP
Clinical Consultant – Briggs Healthcare

HHS published a bulletin on Civil Rights, HIPAA, and the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) to ensure that entities covered by civil rights authorities keep in mind their obligations under laws and regulations that prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, disability, age, sex, and exercise of conscience and religion in HHS-funded programs.

OCR remains in close coordination with federal partners to help ensure that the Nation’s response effectively addresses the needs of at-risk populations. To this end and as resources allow, government officials, health care providers, and covered entities should not overlook their obligations under federal civil rights laws to help ensure all segments of the community are served by:

  • Providing effective communication with individuals who are deaf, hard of hearing, blind, have low vision, or have speech disabilities through the use of qualified interpreters, picture boards, and other means;
  • Providing meaningful access to programs and information to individuals with limited English proficiency through the use of qualified interpreters and through other means;
  • Making emergency messaging available in plain language and in languages prevalent in the affected area(s) and in multiple formats, such as audio, large print, and captioning, and ensuring that websites providing emergency-related information are accessible;
  • Addressing the needs of individuals with disabilities, including individuals with mobility impairments, individuals who use assistive devices, auxiliary aids, or durable medical equipment, individuals with impaired sensory, manual, and speaking skills, and individuals with immunosuppressed conditions including HIV/AIDS in emergency planning;
  • Respecting requests for religious accommodations in treatment and access to clergy or faith practices as practicable.

Covered entities should consider adopting, as circumstances and resources allow, the following practices to help ensure all segments of the community are served:

  • Making use of multiple outlets and resources for messaging to reach individuals with disabilities, individuals with limited English proficiency, and members of diverse faith communities; and
  • Stocking facilities with items that will help people to maintain independence, such as hearing aid batteries, canes, and walkers.

The 6-page bulletin contains additional hyperlinks and information on HIPAA, telehealth and filing a complaint with OCR as well as other resources.