On Thursday, May 10,2018, the US Department of Justice announced that it had reached a settlement agreement with Charlwell House, a skilled nursing facility in Norwood, Massachusetts, to resolve allegations that the facility violated Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by refusing to accept a patient because they were being treated for Opioid Use Disorder (OUD).
Charlwell House is a 124-bed health and rehabilitation center that provides skilled nursing services and rehabilitation programs. According to a complaint filed with the United States Attorney’s Office, an individual seeking admission for treatment at Charlwell House was denied because they were being treated with Suboxone, a medication used to treat OUD. Individuals receiving treatment for OUD are generally considered disabled under the ADA, which among other things prohibits private healthcare providers from discriminating on the basis of disability.
According to DOJ: “Our office is committed to protecting the rights of people with disabilities, which includes those in treatment for an Opioid Use Disorder,” said United States Attorney Andrew E. Lelling. “The number one enforcement priority of my office is addressing Massachusetts’ opioid crisis. Overdoses killed more than 2,000 individuals in Massachusetts last year alone. As Massachusetts faces this overdose epidemic, now more than ever, individuals in recovery must not face discriminatory barriers to treatment. We appreciate the cooperation that Charlwell House has offered throughout our investigation.”
Under the terms of the agreement, Charlwell House will, among other things, adopt a non-discrimination policy, provide training on the ADA and OUD to admissions personnel, and pay a civil penalty of $5,000 to the United States.
Sally Friedman, the Legal Director of the Legal Action Center (LAC), applauded the U.S. Attorney’s office for taking action against this widespread form of discrimination, noting that it is likely the first ADA settlement against a skilled nursing facility for excluding patients because they are taking medication to treat their substance use disorder.
“The case law is abundantly clear that the ADA protects individuals with substance use disorder. This settlement by the Department of Justice should send a resounding message to skilled nursing facilities – and other entities – that denying care to people because they are taking life-saving medication to treat addiction is a discriminatory practice that will not be tolerated.”
This settlement announcement comes on the heels of a letter by the U.S. Attorney’s Office that it is investigating whether the Massachusetts correctional system is violating the ADA by forcing people off addiction medication when they become incarcerated, and an article in STATNews documenting the common practice of nursing facilities refusing to accept patients taking addiction medication.
Information about what to do when forced off medication assisted treatment (MAT) by the criminal justice and child welfare systems or employers is available in LAC’s MAT Advocacy toolkit,www.lac.org/MAT-advocacy.