Despite the challenges and disruptions posed by COVID-19, Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accessibility obligations to patients and health care employees are not suspended in the pandemic. In fact, the time may be optimal to review your accessibility policies and procedures due to COVID-19 operational changes and new accessibility issues.
Among disability laws prohibiting discriminatory conduct, the ADA and other similar anti-disability discrimination laws are unique because they require organizations to take affirmative actions – by providing reasonable accommodations - to help those with disabilities overcome barriers. This may mean changing policies, providing auxiliary aids or services, and even removing physical barriers. In a workplace such as a hospital, clinic, or care facility, health care providers have ADA obligations to patients, employees and visitors or companions.
Understandably, COVID-19 has compelled providers to change everything from the physical flow of patient intake, staffing resources and visitor policies to the increased role of telemedicine appointments, perhaps on websites not optimized for those with disabilities. All of these can heighten the risk of ADA liability – potentially triggering damages, attorney’s fees, government scrutiny and unfavorable publicity.
With COVID-19 now a likely addition to the list of disabilities, providers cannot withhold service because of a patient’s COVID-19 positive status; and they must also comply with certain requirements for employee health assessments, testing, contact tracing and PPE. In this challenging and unprecedented time, your attorney on the Health Care Industry Team can be a valuable resource.