Civil Rights Protections Prohibiting Race, Color and National Origin Discrimination During COVID‐19

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

The Office of Civil Rights (OCR) issued a bulletin on Monday, July 20, 2020.  This 8-page bulletin is a must-read.

“As part of the national response to the COVID‐19 public health emergency, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has provided substantial Federal financial assistance to state and local agencies, hospitals, and other healthcare providers on the front lines of the COVID‐19 response. 

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) continues to issue guidance to ensure that the recipients of this Federal financial assistance understand that they must comply with applicable Federal civil rights 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. This Bulletin focuses on recipients’ compliance with the prohibitions against race, color, and national origin discrimination contained in Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI).

To help ensure Title VI compliance during the COVID‐19 public health emergency, recipients of Federal financial assistance, including state and local agencies, hospitals, and other health care providers, should:

  • Adopt policies to prevent and address harassment or other unlawful discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin.
  • Ensure – when site selection is determined by a recipient of HHS funds – that Community‐Based Testing Sites and Alternate Care Sites,28 are accessible to racial and ethnic minority populations.29 For example, to support this end, recipients may consider making walk‐in testing sites available in urban areas where racial and ethnic minority populations may not have access to vehicle transportation, or providing home visitation testing in rural areas where transportation is a challenge for racial and ethnic minorities.
  • Confirm that existing policies and procedures with respect to COVID‐19 related services (including testing) do not exclude or otherwise deny persons on the basis of race, color, or national origin.
  • Ensure that individuals from racial and ethnic minority groups are not subjected to excessive wait times, rejected for hospital admissions, or denied access to intensive care units compared to similarly situated non‐minority individuals.
  • Provide ambulance service, non‐emergency medical transportation, and home health services – if part of the program or services offered by the recipient – to all neighborhoods within the recipient’s service area, without regard to race, color, or national origin.
  • Appoint or select individuals to participate as members of a planning or advisory body, which is an integral part of the recipient’s program, without exclusions on the basis of race, color, or national origin.
  • Assign staff, including physicians, nurses, and volunteer caregivers, without regard to race, color, or national origin. Recipients should not honor a patient’s request for a same‐race physician, nurse, or volunteer caregiver.
  • Assign beds and rooms, without regard to race, color, or national origin. For multi‐bed rooms, recipients should not grant a patient’s request to exclude a roommate of a particular race; and for single‐bed rooms, recipients should assign patients in a non‐discriminatory manner.
  • Make available to patients, beneficiaries, and customers information on how the recipient does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, or national origin in accordance with applicable laws and regulations.”

The Bulletin also contains additional resources and references.