Cross-posted from AIDS.gov, originally authored by Jocelyn Samuels.
To be free of discrimination on the basis of HIV status is both a human and a civil right. Vigorous enforcement of the Americans with Disabilities Act, . . . the Rehabilitation Act, and other civil rights laws is vital to establishing an environment where people will feel safe in getting tested and seeking treatment.
—National HIV/AIDS Strategy for the United States
Since 2010, the HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has been proud to serve as a member of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS) Implementation Group. As a federal law enforcement agency, OCR is committed to responding to the National HIV/AIDS Strategy’s call for vigorous enforcement of our Nation’s civil rights laws.
Today, we are pleased to release a report on our National HIV/AIDS Compliance Review Initiative [PDF 534 KB]. This important Initiative was initiated in 2014 and 2015, when OCR conducted coordinated compliance reviews at 12 hospitals – one hospital in each of the 12 cities most impacted by HIV/AIDS: Atlanta, GA; Baltimore, MD; Chicago, IL; Dallas, TX; Houston, TX; Los Angeles, CA; Miami, FL; New York City, NY; Philadelphia, PA; San Francisco, CA; San Juan, PR; and Washington, DC. Focusing on HIV testing, prevention and treatment services, the compliance reviews examined the ways in which each hospital ensures: (1) equal access for HIV-positive individuals to programs and services; (2) meaningful access for limited English proficient (LEP) individuals; and (3) the privacy and security of individuals’ health information and their rights with regard to that information.
OCR evaluated each hospital’s policies and practices and found that all of the hospitals under review had implemented some policies and practices to promote equal access and protect health information. In addition, many of the hospitals had implemented evidence-based interventions to increase the number of newly diagnosed individuals entering or retained in care. However, OCR also found that in some of the hospitals, there were opportunities for improvement; OCR provided those hospitals with technical assistance. Today’s report summarizes OCR’s findings and identifies steps that hospitals and other health care providers must take to protect the civil rights and health information privacy of people living with HIV/AIDS. For example, hospitals and other health care providers (“covered entities”) must:
Over the five-year period from FY 2010 to FY2015, OCR opened 145 matters to provide public education and address allegations that people living with HIV suffered violations of their civil rights or health information privacy.
Of particular note, in 2013, OCR launched its Information is Powerful Medicine national campaign, which encourages those living with HIV to be proactive in their medical care. The campaign explains individuals’ health information privacy rights, including how individuals can monitor and access a copy of their medical records. The campaign reaches African American men who have sex with men and was featured at Black gay pride events in Atlanta, Chicago, New York City, Oakland and Washington, DC, as well as at the U.S. Conference on AIDS in New Orleans. To download and share the Information Is Powerful Medicine brochure, poster and/or web banners with others who might find the information useful, visit aids.gov/privacy.
Jocelyn Samuels is Director of the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.