CommunicationFIRST Joins Complaint Against MedStar for Violating Communication Rights of DC Patient

artsy black and white stock photo looking upward at modernist concrete scaffolding on the outside of a buildingWASHINGTON, D.C. -- Yesterday, CommunicationFIRST joined Disability Rights DC and 6 other civil and disability rights organizations in filing a formal complaint with the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services against MedStar Health, MedStar Washington Hospital Center, and the MedStar National Rehabilitation Hospital in Washington, D.C., for discriminating against a 72-year old patient with communication and other disabilities.

The complaint alleges that MedStar is discriminating against W.K. by denying him reasonable in-person access to individualized communication supports and services, including a trained support person and other auxiliary aids and services.

MedStar's denial of these reasonable accommodations for his hearing, speech, and cognitive disabilities have resulted in denying him meaningful access to health care, effective communication with his medical providers, and the ability to provide informed consent for treatment.

The complaint argues that the MedStar situation has been exacerbated by the lack of clear policy and guidance from the District of Columbia on the obligations of hospitals and other health care facilities to comply with federally-protected civil rights of patients with disabilities, which apply even during the COVID-19 public health emergency.

In addition to Disability Rights DC and CommunicationFIRST, the other organizations joining the complaint are the Center for Public Representation, The Arc of the United States, the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, the Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center, Quality Trust for Individuals with Disabilities, and the Washington Lawyers’ Committee.

After CommunicationFIRST's May 2020 complaints on this issue led to a nationally precedent-setting OCR resolution on June 9, 2020, making clear that hospitals are required to provide reasonable in-person accommodations for patients with communication disabilities if needed for them to access health care, most hospitals took quick action to revise their policies and practices accordingly. This is the first formal OCR complaint CommunicationFIRST has had to pursue against a hospital since then.