BCD: Addressing Barriers to Health Care Services for People with Disabilities

DHS Logo Original 07/11/2018

Healthcare-Associated Infections (HAI) Prevention Program

Addressing Barriers to Health Care Services for People with Disabilities

During the COVID-19 pandemic, hospitals, long-term care facilities, and other health care facilities enacted specific visitation policies and restrictions intended to protect the health and safety of patients, residents, visitors, and health care personnel. While limiting the number of people present in health care facilities can be an important infection prevention and control tool, the following message from the Governor’s Committee for People with Disabilities reminds facilities that visitation policies and restrictions still need to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and other anti-discrimination regulations, even during a public health emergency.

Reminder from the Governor's Committee for People with Disabilities

New policies and procedures implemented by health care providers and facilities during the pandemic inadvertently created additional barriers to health care services for people with disabilities. This is a reminder that there are federal laws that protect people’s civil rights and prohibit discrimination against people with disabilities, which still need to be followed during a public health emergency. Specifically:

  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) - Health care agencies and facilities (including, but not limited to: hospitals, doctors’ offices, pharmacies, dentists’ offices, long-term care facilities, and acupuncturists’ offices) are covered under the ADA. The ADA requires health care entities to provide full and equal access for people with disabilities. This can be done through:
    • Reasonable modifications of policies, practices, and procedures, if needed, to provide goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations. This also includes, if requested, the presence of a support individual (paid or unpaid) to assist with communication, physical assistance, mobility, treatment follow-up, or other individual support needs.
    • Effective communication. Making communication, in all forms, easily understood.
    • Accessible facilities. Ensuring physical accessibility.
  • Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 - The Rehabilitation Act is clear that people with disabilities must not by reason of their disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination, in a provider’s health care services.

The Governor’s Committee for People with Disabilities (GCPD) exists to advise the Governor, state agencies, and the state legislature on issues of concern for people who have disabilities. The committee and its constituent councils across the disability spectrum have been closely monitoring the impact of COVID-19 on people with disabilities in Wisconsin. As a result, the committee has developed surveys, educational materials, and resources, and can provide training on reasonable accommodations and how to effectively communicate with patients who have a range of disabilities.

If you have any questions, or would like access to resources or more information, please contact the GCPD Chair, David Morstad, via email or by phone at (920) 248-9210.

Additional information regarding health care and the Americans with Disabilities Act is available on the ADA National Network website.

The Division of Public Health (DPH), Healthcare-Associated Infections (HAI) Prevention Program offers the following suggestions to integrate infection prevention and control principles into planning and practices that ensure accessibility for all patients and residents.

  • Involve infection prevention in proactive accommodation planning when developing policies.
  • Determine practices to increase safety of the visits (for example, masks, larger rooms with ventilation for distancing).
  • Educate staff who will be screening visitors (for example, receptionists, security) on the need for accommodation.
  • Incorporate necessary caregivers into patient care plans to reinforce their need.
  • Seek input from facility patient care services/patient care experience staff, if available, for additional ways to proactively meet the needs of this group of patients.

The Governor's Committee for People with Disabilities works regularly with the DPH Bureau of Aging and Disability Resources, which is another resource available for facilities interested in additional input on this topic.