Complaint: Triage plan discriminates against disabled people

Health officials plan to ration medical resources when the coronavirus outbreak worsens.

By Martha Bellisle / Associated Press

SEATTLE — Rights groups in Washington filed a complaint Monday with federal health officials claiming plans developed by the state Department of Health and University of Washington Medical Center for rationing life-saving equipment and treatments while responding to the coronavirus outbreak discriminates against disabled people.

The protocols will guide health professionals in deciding who will have access to life-saving treatment and who will die, the complaint said. And the latest plan puts disabled people at risk, said the complaint, filed with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“The plans were just released on Friday and we need the Office of Civil Rights to weigh in before the plans are actually used as there is no way to reverse a denial of life saving treatment after the fact,” David Carlson, director of advocacy with Disabilities Rights Washington, told The Associated Press on Monday.

Messages sent to state health officials seeking comment on the complaint were not immediately returned.

Health care professionals are working on protocols for responding to COVID-19 as they face the likelihood that they won’t have enough medical equipment, such as ventilators, to treat people being hospitalized for the disease.

The complaint says the Washington State Department of Health and the Northwest Healthcare Response Network, a coalition of hospitals, plan to assess a patient’s age, health and the chances that they’ll survive the disease when deciding who will get treatment and who will receive comfort care.

The health department sent guidance last week that recommends teams consider sending patients with “loss of reserves in energy, physical ability, cognition and general health” to outpatient or palliative care, the complaint said. The flow charts give priority to people who are younger and healthier, leaving older people and and those with disabilities to die.

“Any plan that discriminates against people with disabilities in this way violates the legal rights of people with disabilities and is unlawful,” the complaint said.

They’re asking the Office of Civil Rights to step in to ensure everyone is treated fairly and legally.

“Guidance is needed within hours or days, not weeks or months given that Washington is at the epicenter of the U.S. epidemic — the pandemic is spreading at a rapid pace, and the number of confirmed cases and deaths is climbing each day,” the complaint said.

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