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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
District of Massachusetts

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, September 17, 2019

U.S. Attorney’s Office Settles Disability Discrimination Allegations with Operator of Skilled Nursing Facilities

BOSTON – The U.S. Attorney’s Office reached an agreement today with Athena Health Care Systems (Athena), operator of 16 skilled nursing facilities in Massachusetts, to resolve allegations that they violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by turning away patients because they were being treated for Opioid Use Disorder (OUD).

According to two complaints filed with the United States Attorney’s Office, individuals seeking admission at Athena facilities were denied because they were being treated with buprenorphine, a medication used to treat OUD. The individuals were seeking admissions to the facilities for health issues unrelated to their addiction, but required that the facilities administer their buprenorphine as they would administer any other medication. Individuals receiving treatment for OUD are generally considered disabled under the ADA, which, among other things, prohibits private healthcare providers from discriminating on the basis of disability.  

Under the terms of the agreement, Athena will, among other things, adopt a non-discrimination policy, provide training on the ADA and OUD to admissions personnel, and pay a civil penalty of $10,000 to the United States.

“The opioid epidemic is a battle in which victory is measured by the number of lives saved,” said United States Attorney Andrew E. Lelling. “Medically-assisted treatment is a powerful tool for helping people in recovery to avoid relapse. To that end, my office will continue to identify and eliminate illegal barriers to treatment. We commend Athena for cooperating with our investigation and working with us to modify its policies for compliance with the ADA. We encourage other entities to proactively do the same.”

This matter is part of an ongoing effort by the U.S. Attorney’s Office to enforce the Title III of the ADA and to eliminate discriminatory barriers to treatment for Opioid Use Disorder (OUD). In May 2018, the U.S. Attorney’s Office reached the first settlement of this kind with Charlwell House, a rehabilitation center that provides skilled nursing services. Today’s settlement marks the second resolution in the District of Massachusetts.

This matter was handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregory Dorchak of Lelling’s Civil Rights Unit.

The Civil Rights Unit of the U.S. Attorney’s Office was established in 2015 with the mission of enhancing federal civil rights enforcement. For more information on the Office’s civil rights efforts, please visit www.justice.gov/usao-ma/civil-rights

Topic(s): 
Civil Rights
Component(s): 
Updated September 17, 2019