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Healthcare Considerations for People with Disabilities During COVID-19

Case Study Last Reviewed: July 17, 2020

To ensure the accessibility of healthcare services during the COVID-19 pandemic, medical facilities should consider allowing caregivers to accompany patients with disabilities to medical visits, while implementing the necessary precautions for social distancing and mask-wearing. Medical centers have also created visual guides to explain COVID-19 preventive behaviors to individuals with autism.

The following is a list of key findings and considerations for jurisdictions and communities regarding ongoing COVID-19 pandemic operations across the country. These are best practices for consideration and do not constitute or should not be considered as guidance in any way.

This document contains references and links to non-federal resources and organizations. This information is meant solely for informational purposes and is not intended to be an endorsement of any non-federal entity by FEMA, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, or the U.S. government.

Areas for Improvement

  • With increasing medical demand and personal protective equipment (PPE) supply shortages, people with disabilities reported inequities when being medically triaged for care.
    • Mitigating Action: As the PPE supply begins to increase nationwide, nursing homes should begin acquiring necessary PPE. Additionally, medical providers should ensure that people with disabilities are given care equal to those without a disability.
  • Due to medical and safety concerns, some patients that received medical care in hospitals were not allowed to have family members or support providers accompany them.
    • Mitigating Action: While instituting necessary precautions and limiting visitation, medical facilities should consider allowing caregivers to accompany patients with disabilities to provide support and assist with communication.

Potential Best Practices

Strengths

  • Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Civil Rights issued a statement, Civil Rights, HIPAA, and the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), to ensure that entities covered by civil rights authorities understand their obligations under laws and regulations that prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, disability, age, sex, and exercise of conscience and religion in HHS-funded programs.
    • Similarly, the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Office of Equal Rights issued a civil rights bulletin, Ensuring Civil Rights During the COVID-19 Response, reminding FEMA; state, local, tribal, and territorial (SLTT) partners; and non-governmental relief and disaster organizations that civil rights laws and legal authorities, including those related to people with disabilities, remain in effect during emergencies and cannot be waived. The document also offers best practices and resources related to civil rights obligations, including disability.
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Last updated February 3, 2021