The U.S. Department of Justice and Maryland-based MedStar Health have reached a $440,000 settlement over allegations that the company violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.
MedStar, which operates 10 hospitals and over 300 total care locations in Maryland and Washington, D.C., will compensate affected people, revise its policies, and report to the Justice Department any future exclusion of support persons under the terms of the settlement, which must be approved by a federal judge.
The new policies will require MedStar to state publicly that a support person may accompany patients with disabilities in order to “process relevant medical information, aid comprehension, and/or fully communicate in order to receive equal medical care from MedStar Health,” according to the consent decree filed by both parties.
A date for a hearing on the settlement agreement had not been set as of Wednesday evening.
The suit, filed in federal court in Baltimore simultaneously with the settlement on Tuesday, accused MedStar Health of excluding family members, companions and aides from accompanying people with disabilities, such as dementia, intellectual disabilities and autism spectrum disorder after imposing restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
MedStar Health imposed restrictions related to the pandemic starting in 2020. The company kept those restrictions, including who could accompany patients, in place through at least 2022, the Justice Department said.
Once most pandemic-imposed restrictions lifted elsewhere, MedStar Health wouldn’t lift or modify its policy, thereby denying people who needed assistance the help required and denying their ability to access health care, the federal government said.
“Patients are entitled to equal access to healthcare,” U.S. Attorney Erek L. Barron of Maryland said in a statement.
“For some people with disabilities, having a support person accompany them is critical to ensure they have the same access to health care as everyone else. This is a key promise of the ADA,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.
Marianne Worley, a spokeswoman for MedStar Health, said the Justice Department first raised concerns about how support for some patients was being handled in 2021. The settlement allows the company to take safeguards for the health of patients while allowing those who need help to receive it, she said.
“As a result of the resolution, we have clarified our visitation policies and will provide training for associates who regularly may be called upon to recognize when a patient requires a support person,” Worley said.