Watch CBS News

Mass. Coronavirus Triage Guidelines Discriminate Against The Disabled, Advocates Say

BOSTON (CBS) -- Advocates are now concerned that people with disabilities would not get life-saving care if they became infected with the coronavirus. They say the critical care guidelines for hospitals in Massachusetts don't prioritize ventilators for the disabled.

Gail, who is disabled with a number of health issues, said she believes if hospitals ever have to ration care, she wouldn't get the help she would need.

"I'd rather stay home at this point than to go to a hospital," she said. "Even if, worst case scenario, I can't breathe, if they have to abide by these guidelines, they wouldn't help me."

The Massachusetts Department of Health Crisis Standards of Care guidelines issued this week say that, if during the pandemic there are too few beds and ventilators to meet demand of critically ill patients, hospitals and doctors would use a scoring system to determine who has the best chance to survive.

"It's obviously heartbreaking to even be discussing the potential for rationing of care," said Kathryn Rucker, of the Center for Public Representation, a law firm that works to protect people with disabilities. "The way in which the current triage process would be implemented would disproportionately impact and discriminate against people with disabilities, older adults and others with underlying co-morbid conditions. And that's just not acceptable."

While disabilities is on the long list of factors, including race, age, gender and ability to pay that the state says healthcare providers should not consider, the Center for Public Representation said that language is not enough to prevent stereotyping and deciding who's worth saving.

On Thursday, the advocacy group sent a letter to the governor and other state officials demanding changes, claiming the guidelines
violate the Americans With Disabilities Act.

The Center for Public Representation gave Gov. Baker until April 13 at noon to respond. The state says the guidelines are not mandatory and would only be used in a disaster situation.

They released a statement Friday: "In a disaster situation, we need to make sure that everyone – regardless of who you are, where you live – gets a fair chance to be treated. The Crisis Standards of Care guidelines released are not yet in effect. These are guidelines that are used only in disaster situations; situations we hope – and are working to ensure – do not happen. However, if needed, these guidelines will help hospitals, and frontline health care providers, do the greatest amount of good for the greatest amount of people. They will also serve our residents by ensuring that critical health care resources are allocated equitably and ethically across our health care system."

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.