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How the HHS Civil Rights Bulletin Affects Healthcare Providers

August 31, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic public health emergency requires increased resources for medical treatment. To assist in this effort, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) provides federal financial assistance to healthcare providers on the front lines. Recipients of federal funds are required to comply with federal civil rights laws and regulations prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, disability, age, sex, and religion.

To help healthcare providers understand their legal obligations concerning civil rights, the HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR), issued a bulletin in July 2020 to provide guidance on what the prohibition against race, color, and national origin discrimination means for healthcare providers. Following the requirements of this bulletin will help providers comply with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

How Does the HHS Bulletin Enforce Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964?

According to Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, “no person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

This non-discriminatory mandate prohibits intentional discrimination, and it also forbids federally-funded healthcare providers from using any criteria or method that creates the effect of exclusion or unequal treatment based on race, color, or national origin.

For example, if you do not provide services to a certain neighborhood where a higher proportion of a certain ethnic or racial minority group lives, your healthcare agency essentially discriminates against individuals of that group, whether or not your reasons for excluding that neighborhood are racially motivated. OCR Director Roger Severino said, “This guidance reminds providers that unlawful racial discrimination in healthcare will not be tolerated, especially during a pandemic.”

While the OCR enforces Title VI to ensure fair treatment of racial and ethnic minority groups, HHS is also working to help close disparities in COVID-19 cases. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports higher illness and death rates from COVID-19 among racial and ethnic minority populations, including African American, Native American, and Hispanic populations.

To help understand the causes of this disparity, HHS is working with several partners to track COVID-19 cases and understand the impact of COVID-19 on key populations. HHS is also awarding funds to various organizations working to increase access to COVID-19 testing and information to underserved populations.

9 Ways Your Healthcare Agency Can Prevent Discrimination

  1. Adopt policies that prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin.
  2. Ensure that community and alternate care sites, such as walk-in testing sites, are available to racial and ethnic minority populations, especially in communities where transportation is a challenge.
  3. Review your COVID-19 policies and procedures to ensure they do not discriminate against people because of their race, color, or national origin.
  4. Ensure that people from minority populations are not subjected to longer wait times or refused access to hospitals or intensive care units because of their race, color, or national origin.
  5. Provide all services that are normally part of your entity’s healthcare services equally to all neighborhoods, including home health services, medical transportation, and ambulance services.
  6. Create a planning or advisory body as part of your healthcare entity’s program that selects members without regard to color, race, or national origin.
  7. Assign staff, including physicians, nurses, and volunteers without regard to race, color, or national origin. Refuse patient requests for a caregiver of the same race.
  8. Assign rooms without regard to race, color, or national origin. Refuse patient requests for a roommate of the same race.
  9. Provide information for patients and other beneficiaries about your non-discriminatory policies.

Verisys provides turn-key provider screening, identity and licensure verification, credentialing, and continuous monitoring powered by the most comprehensive data in the health care industry. Verisys keeps your healthcare organization safe, secure, and compliant while meeting federal and state government standards and regulations. We are here to assist you with your compliance programs and providing transparency into your provider data in order to serve your patients better and to keep them safe.

Juliette WillardWritten by Juliette Willard
Healthcare Communications Specialist
Being creative is my passion! Writer. Painter. Problem Solver. Optimist.
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