Arizona has revised the standards for allocating scarce medical resources during crises, such as the coronavirus pandemic, to resolve a months-old federal complaint that claimed the previous standards discriminated against older residents, people of color and people with disabilities.
The revised crisis care standards now reflect legal requirements and best practices to address the needs of people with disabilities and older adults, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Civil Rights said in a statement on Tuesday, according to The Arizona Republic.
Several advocacy groups, including the Arizona Center for Disability Law and The Arc of Arizona, filed the complaint in July 2020. They argued the previous protocols were putting some residents at risk by raising the potential for some people with disabilities to be perceived as having a shorter life expectancy, which meant less medical care.
The new standards are a “significant step forward” for vulnerable residents, said Jon Meyers, executive director of The Arc of Arizona, which advocates for the rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
“We’re very glad that we have standards that would now ensure that all patients, including those with disabilities, would receive equitable treatment,” Maya Abela, an attorney with the Arizona Center for Disability Law. “Even though we are kind of past the initial surge (of COVID-19) and fingers crossed that never happens again, we thought it was really important to ensure that these changes nevertheless get incorporated.”
Arizona Department of Health Services Director Dr. Cara Christ said the department is pleased with the new language.
The standards guide how resources are rationed to patients based on factors such as patients’ likelihood for survival. The revisions now prohibit the use of patients’ long-term life expectancy as a factor in allocating scarce medical resources.
Long-standing discrimination against people with disabilities and people of color by the U.S. health care system had led to a higher rate of underlying health conditions and lower life expectancy among those groups, the complaint said. For that reason, the complaint said, triaging people based on life expectancy is inherently unjust.
In addition to disability and civil rights groups, the complaint was filed by two Arizona residents, who have disabilities. Both had outlived life expectancy estimates from medical providers and were worried that if they were ever to be hospitalized with COVID-19, their life expectancy would be similarly misjudged.
The HHS Office of Civil Rights has over the past year helped resolve complaints about crisis standards of care in other states, including Utah, Tennessee, Pennsylvania and Alabama.
Robinsue Frohboese, acting director of the health department’s Office of Civil Rights, said the new standards “help ensure non-discriminatory access to medical resources during this public health emergency for older adults and persons with disabilities.”