Joseph Shapiro | KGOU
KGOU

Joseph Shapiro

Civil rights officials at the Department of Health and Human Services issued a series of actions to protect people with disabilities from health care discrimination by medical providers during the pandemic.

The actions, by the Office of Civil Rights, or OCR, at the Department of Health and Human Services, specifically address discrimination related to the denial of treatment for people with disabilities who have COVID-19 or the symptoms of COVID-19. They include:

At the start of the coronavirus pandemic, a small group of disability rights advocates found itself in a race against time to save the life of a woman with an intellectual disability.

The woman was taken to the hospital with COVID-19. But the hospital, in a small Oregon town, denied the ventilator she needed. Instead, a doctor, citing her "low quality of life," wanted her to sign a legal form to allow the hospital to deny her care.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

NOEL KING, HOST:

On the morning of April 21, Sarah McSweeney woke up with a temperature of 103 degrees — and it kept rising. Staff at her group home worried that the woman with multiple disabilities — she couldn't walk or speak words — had contracted COVID-19. They got her into her bright pink wheelchair and hurried to the hospital, just a block down the street from the group home in Oregon City, Ore.

That afternoon, Heidi Barnett got a phone call from the doctor in the emergency room.

American Airlines has reversed a policy that meant some people who use heavy wheelchairs could no longer fly on certain small regional jets.

The recent policy banned wheelchairs weighing more than 300 pounds from some of its smaller jets. Many power wheelchairs, with batteries and motors, weigh more than that.

Updated on Friday, Nov. 6, 2020, at 3:30 pm ET:

After this article was published, a spokesperson for American Airlines told NPR in a statement that the airline is reviewing its weight limit on wheelchairs: "We apologize for the confusion and will ensure all customers can travel wherever American flies."


John Morris calls himself an "aviation geek." He's a frequent flyer who, in his power wheelchair, has traveled to 46 countries. His goal is to visit every country.

In early August, José came home to the Chicago apartment he shares with his wife and five children. He'd just spent three months in the hospital after contracting the coronavirus.

"We were all so happy," says his daughter Alondra, describing that day. "Everybody in the hospital was like, he was about to die. There was no more hope for him. ... So now we're like, 'Thank God, he's still here with us.' "

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

What Melissa Hickson says happened to her husband — and what the hospital says — are in conflict.

But this much is for sure: Michael Hickson, a 46-year old quadriplegic who'd contracted COVID-19, died at St. David's South Austin Medical Center in Austin, Texas, on June 11 after the hospital ended treatment for him and moved him from the intensive care unit to hospice care.

Before the Americans with Disabilities Act granted people with disabilities greater protection and accessibility, a little-known law set the groundwork.

When a natural disaster strikes, it's complicated to evacuate and care for some of the people most at risk — the elderly and disabled.

Now — add another complication: a pandemic.

Prisons across the country have placed prisoners on lockdown — they're kept in their cells mostly around-the-clock — as a way to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Now prison reformers are worried that the response has increased the use of a practice they've long fought: solitary confinement.

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People with intellectual disabilities and autism who contract COVID-19 die at higher rates than the rest of the population, according to an analysis by NPR of numbers obtained from two states that collect data. They also contract the virus at a higher rate, according to research looking into group homes across the United States.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

The Navy has ordered members of its Military Sealift Command — a group of civilian mariners who supply military vessels around the world — to stay on their ships in an effort to prevent outbreaks of the coronavirus. A "gangway up" order enforcing the lock-down was issued on March 21.

There's one thing that distinguishes the nursing homes in New York that have reported patient deaths from COVID-19. According to an NPR analysis, they are far more likely to be made up of people of color.

NPR looked at 78 nursing homes in New York in which six or more residents have died of COVID-19. In one facility, 55 people have died as of April 20. Ten others report 30 or more deaths.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

It's a moment that people with disabilities have long feared: there's a shortage of life-saving equipment, like ventilators, and doctors say they may be forced to decide who lives and who dies.

People with disabilities worry those judgments will reflect a prejudice that their lives hold less value.

State health officials have drafted rationing plans that exclude some people with significant disabilities from ventilators and other treatment.

Updated at 10:10 p.m. ET

One month ago today, President Trump declared a national emergency.

In a Rose Garden address, flanked by leaders from giant retailers and medical testing companies, he promised a mobilization of public and private resources to attack the coronavirus.

"We've been working very hard on this. We've made tremendous progress," Trump said. "When you compare what we've done to other areas of the world, it's pretty incredible."

But few of the promises made that day have come to pass.

With coronavirus cases continuing to climb and hospitals facing the prospect of having to decide how to allocate limited staff and resources, the Department of Health and Human Services is reminding states and health care providers that civil rights laws still apply in a pandemic.

States are preparing for a situation when there's not enough care to go around by issuing "crisis of care" standards.

But disability groups are worried that those standards will allow rationing decisions that exclude the elderly or people with disabilities.

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