[Hpn] Disability Rights - Patient Privacy Rights - ACLU press releases

Tom Boland wgcp@earthlink.net
Fri, 5 Jan 2001 22:20:19 -0800 (PST)

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Year-End Civil Liberties Review, Medical Privacy, 01-04-2001
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[ 2 excerpted aarticles ]

     ACLU Announces Model Settlement
     in Maryland Disability Rights Challenge

Tuesday, December 19, 2000

BALTIMORE, MD--The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland and the
Maryland Disability Law Center today announced their settlement of a
federal court lawsuit filed last April on behalf of a disability rights
advocate against the city of Cambridge.

Today's agreement calls for top-to-bottom changes in city programs and
facilities to ensure access for people with disabilities, and awards
$20,000 in damages and costs.

"What people need to understand is that we are all just a heartbeat away
from needing this same access ourselves," said plaintiff Randy Whaples,
who became physically disabled as a result of a 1994 stroke and now serves
as Executive Director of the Eastern Shore Center of Independent Living.

"Having a disabled child, being stricken with an illness or injured in a
car accident, the care of an elderly family member that suddenly falls on
our shoulders -- all these things can happen to any of us. Then
accessibility issues become very important."

Talks about settlement of Whaples' lawsuit began shortly after the
election of a new Mayor and City Commission last summer. "We are impressed
with the willingness of the city's new administration to act quickly and
effectively to remove longstanding barriers to access for people with
disabilities," said attorney Allison Scharf of the Disability Law Center.
"The city's proactive approach and the agreement reached here should serve
as models for other public officials grappling with access issues."

In their lawsuit, the groups alleged with violations of the Americans with
Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Many of the
violations complained of in the lawsuit have already been addressed by
Cambridge officials during the months leading up to the settlement. The
city further committed to rectify all remaining violations by June 1,

In addition to the monetary payment, the settlement agreement specifically

 The city's designated ADA Coordinator will arrange for updated training
of city officials on ADA issues, and will prepare a new city-wide
self-evaluation plan, considering input from Randy Whaples and other
residents with disabilities. The plan will include a new ADA grievance
procedure, through which any person can make a complaint about disability
discrimination in city services or facilities. The city will also
establish a new advisory committee on disability and access issues;

 City Hall will be made fully accessible through the creation of an
accessible entry path, installation of accessible hardware for the doors,
and rearrangement of the meeting room to make space for persons who use
wheelchairs. Adjustments are also being made to ensure full accessibility
of the restrooms;

 The Rescue Fire Company planned for future construction will be designed
and built to be fully accessible. During the interim period until the new
fire house is built, Company meetings will be moved to an accessible
location upon request. Additional measures will be taken to ensure that
fire company members with a disability will have full access to the fire
house after hours;

 Sidewalk curb ramps that have been identified as problematic are being
installed or fixed. The city also will conduct an evaluation to determine
which additional sidewalks need ramping or correction, and will develop a
schedule for completion of all curb ramps;

 The Municipal Yacht Basin facilities are being changed to provide a
fully compliant ramp, parking spaces, and restrooms;

 An accessible path and parking will be added at the Academy Street

 City communication systems are being updated to add appropriate signage
at city buildings, subscription and training in use of the Maryland Relay
System, and visual alarms at city facilities. The city also will identify
auxiliary service providers, such as sign language interpreters and
Braille transcription services, to be posted as necessary, at the city's

 All city-sponsored functions will hereafter be held in fully accessible
locations, and;

 The city agrees that once made accessible, all city buildings and
facilities will be maintained in that condition. All new construction,
alterations, programs, services and activities will be carried out in
compliance with the ADA.

"It's a long list of reforms, and a significant one," said ACLU
cooperating attorney Elliot Andalman, of the law firm Andalman & Flynn.
"Overall, this is an agreement that will make Cambridge a better place,
and an effort about which we can all be proud."


     ACLU Says New Medical Privacy Regulations, While Not Perfect,
     Represent Major Advance in Struggle to Protect Confidentiality

Wednesday, December 20, 2000

WASHINGTON - Saying it will continue to press for important improvements,
the American Civil Liberties Union today called a new medical record
regulation issued this morning by the Department of Health and Human
Services a major advance in the struggle for medical confidentiality.

"In some ways the regulation remains flawed, particularly on the subject
of law enforcement access to medical records," said Barry Steinhardt, ACLU
Associate Director. "But on balance, the regulation represents a
significant step forward because it establishes a broad privacy principle
in federal law and does not preempt state laws that provide even stronger

The new regulation implements a 1996 law in which Congress recognized the
urgent need for federal medical privacy protections in an age of
electronic record keeping. Although it gave itself a three-year deadline
to approve new protections, Congress failed to meet its own timetable and
therefore passed the responsibility for new regulation to HHS. Last year,
the agency published a draft regulation, which it finalized today.

The final regulation contained several improvements suggested by the ACLU
and other privacy advocates. Among the many improvements over the draft
recommendations, the final regulation:

--Requires patient consent, even for purposes of payment, treatment and
health care operations. The proposed regulation permitted health care
providers to disclose health information without patient consent for these
core functions.

--Deletes a catch-all privacy exception when health information is
compiled for use by the government.

--Narrows the exceptions allowed for the disclosure of medical records in
civil litigation and for health oversight activities.

"Going into the new year, our primary goal will be to work with Congress
to strengthen medical privacy even further," said Ronald Weich, an ACLU
Legislative Consultant. "In addition, we will vigorously oppose any effort
by Congress or the incoming Bush administration to weaken or block these
important new privacy protections."

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