As part of the national response to COVID-19, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) contributed ample federal financial assistance to healthcare providers on the front lines of the pandemic response. HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR) recently distributed a Civil Rights Title VI Bulletin (based on Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964), to ensure that these federal financial assistance beneficiaries comply with federal civil rights and regulations.
Anti-discrimination Legal Obligations for Healthcare Providers
The Bulletin, created in response to a current rise in discrimination complaints, serves as a reminder to health systems of their legal obligation to prohibit any discrimination associated with race, color, and national origin in HHS-funded programs during COVID-19. This includes intentional discrimination and methods of administration that have a disproportionate and adverse impact based on race, color, or national origin.
As OCR’s Bulletin serves to enforce Title VI, prompting healthcare systems to take action in the hopes of eliminating healthcare disparities, HHS has been working on creating a strategy for state and local agencies, hospitals, and other healthcare providers to implement.
What We Know
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have identified that the “current data suggests a disproportionate burden of illness and death among racial and ethnic minority groups,” including African American, Hispanic, and Native American populations. With these racial and ethnic minority groups already at an increased risk of contracting COVID-19, additional health and social inequities put them at an even bigger risk of becoming ill and dying from the pandemic.
To combat this, HHS is working to identify populations who are the most vulnerable to COVID-19 while also searching for locations where racial and ethnic disparities are the most prevalent.
Strategies in Place
Office for Civil Rights Director, Roger Severino, states the agency is working with NAACP state leaders in the Midwest to educate minority communities on their rights as patients and to instruct them how to file a complaint.
The HHS continues to work on improving prevention, configuring testing, and deciding on treatment plans for the hardest-hit populations, including African-American, Native American, and Hispanic communities.
To help ensure that there’s Title VI compliance during the COVID-19 public health emergency, state and local agencies, hospitals, and other healthcare providers should institute the following:
- Create and institute policies that prevent and identify harassment or discrimination relating to race, color, or national origin.
- Ensure that Community-Based Testing Sites and Alternate Care Sites are accessible to racial and ethnic minority populations.
- Confirm that COVID-19 policies, procedures (ex: telehealth), and testing do not exclude individuals based on their race, color, or national origin.
- Provide ambulance service, non-emergency medical transportation, and home health services 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 without exclusions based on race, color, or national origin.
- Make available to patients, beneficiaries, and customers information on how the recipient does not discriminate based on race, color, or national origin by following applicable laws and regulations.
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Timely Guidance from the Office for Civil Rights (OCR)
As part of the COVID-19 federal response, OCR continues to work with HHS partners and recipients to remove discriminatory barriers, giving equal access to quality healthcare during this critical time.
Vice Admiral Jerome M. Adams, Surgeon General, MD, MPH, explains, “Minorities have long experienced disparities related to the medical and social determinants of health – all of the things that contribute to your health and wellbeing. The COVID-19 pandemic has magnified those disparities, but it has also given us the opportunity to acknowledge their existence and impact and deepen our resolve to address them.”