Coronavirus: OCR releases anti-discrimination guidance

July 21, 2020

The guidance focuses on compliance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The Office of Civil Rights (OCR) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has issued guidance aimed at ensuring that recipients of federal financial assistance comply with federal civil rights laws during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

According to a news release, recipients of federal financial assistance for HHS-funded COVID-19 programs must comply with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, or national origin. The guidance is focused on compliance with this law.

The guidance instructs the recipients to:

  • Adopt policies which preven and address harassment or other discrimination on the aforementioned basis
  • When site selection is determined by a recipient of funds from HHS they should ensure that community-based testing sites and alternate care sites be accessible by ethnic and racial minorities
  • Confirm their existing policies and procedures in regard to COVID-19 don’t exclude or deny persons on the aforementioned basis
  • Ensure that members of racial and ethnic minorities are not subjected to excessive wait times, rejected for hospital admissions, or denied access to intensive care units compared to similarly situated non-minority individuals
  • Provide ambulance service, non-emergency medical transportation, and home health services to all neighborhoods within the recipient of federal funds’ service area without regard to the aforementioned basis
  • Appoint or select people to participate as members of a planning or advisory body which is an integral part of the recipient’s program, without exclusions on the aforementioned basis
  • Assign staff, including physicians, nurses, and volunteer caregivers, without regard to the aforementioned basis
  • Assign beds and rooms without regard for the aforementioned basis
  • Make available to patients, beneficiaries, and customers information on how the recipient does not discriminate on the aforementioned basis

"Minorities have long experienced disparities related to the medical and social determinants of health – all of the things that contribute to your health and wellbeing. The COVID-19 pandemic has magnified those disparities, but it has also given us the opportunity to acknowledge their existence and impact, and deepen our resolve to address them,"Vice Admiral Jerome M. Adams, Surgeon General, MD, MPH, says in the release. "This timely guidance reinforces that goal and I look forward to working across HHS and with our states and communities to ensure it is implemented."