OCR takes action against orthopedic practice that canceled surgery because of patient's HIV status

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Practices should be aware of laws that protect patients with HIV from discrimination after the Office for Civil Rights took action against an orthopedic practice. (Rawpixel)

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) took action against a Florida orthopedic practice that it claims unlawfully canceled a patient’s surgery because of the person’s positive HIV status and then retaliated when the patient filed a complaint.

The practice, Florida Orthopaedic Institute, took corrective action requested by the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS') OCR to resolve the patient complaint and ensure it protects patients with HIV from discrimination, the government agency announced Tuesday.

The case began when OCR received a complaint that one of the practice’s surgeons allegedly made an offensive comment about the patient’s HIV status and then refused to perform a scheduled surgery. The patient filed a complaint with OCR, and the agency informed the practice it would be investigating the allegations. But before the agency reached any conclusion, the practice got into further trouble by banning the patient from receiving further care at its facilities and cited the patient’s complaint as the reason. Retaliation for filing complaints with OCR is prohibited by law.

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OCR said it secured corrective action from Florida Orthopaedic, a comprehensive orthopedic practice that employs about 40 physicians working in 10 offices and 10 hospitals in the Tampa area, to resolve the complaint. Because the practice participates in Medicare and Medicaid, it is subject to the federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability, including HIV/AIDS.

The patient informed OCR of the retaliatory dismissal from the practice, and, on that ground, the agency secured several corrective actions from the practice.

The practice agreed to amend its nondiscrimination policies and revise its procedures for dismissing any patient from the practice. Florida Orthopaedic also agreed to provide staff with multiple trainings on HIV, federal non-discrimination laws, grievance procedures and the requirement to refrain from retaliatory actions.

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A representative for Florida Orthopaedic did not respond to a request for comment.

Before the practice completed its compliance activities, it also provided the patient with referrals to three orthopedic surgeons in the area to prevent further delays in the patient’s care, OCR said.

“Patients with HIV have the right to nondiscriminatory healthcare which includes the right to file complaints with OCR without fear of unlawful retaliation,” said HHS OCR Director Roger Severino.

OCR is charged with ensuring that people have equal access to and an opportunity to receive services from all HHS funded programs. Part of its mission is protecting the civil rights and health information privacy rights of people with HIV/AIDS.

The agency said the case is representative of its continuing compliance work to ensure the implementation of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy and President Donald Trump’s initiative to end the HIV epidemic.

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