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March 11, 2019

OCR Announces Resolution of Complaint That Health Care System Denied a Heart Transplant Opportunity Based on Disability

The US Department of Health and Human Services' Office for Civil Rights (OCR) recently announced the resolution of a complaint filed against the University of North Carolina Health Care System (UNC Health Care), a public academic medical center that includes North Carolina Memorial Hospital, North Carolina Children's Hospital, North Carolina Women's Hospital, and North Carolina Neurosciences Hospital.

A complaint was filed with OCR in September 2018 that alleged UNC Health Care refused to place an individual with developmental disabilities on the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) list for a heart transplant, despite the fact that the individual would eventually die without the transplant. The UNC Health Care doctor found that the individual was not a good transplant candidate due to developmental learning disabilities and the fact that the individual does not live independently.

OCR and UNC Health Care reached an agreement in January 2019 using OCR's Early Complaint Resolution (ECR) process. Pursuant to the agreement, UNC Health Care will amend the individual's medical records to show eligibility for placement on the UNOS transplant list. OCR will also provide assistance in developing the system's transplant eligibility policy. UNC Health Care has denied any wrongdoing and claims the system has never denied patients access to a transplant due to disability.

Although the Americans With Disabilities Act, for example, imposes some restrictions on considering disabilities in transplant decisions, transplant programs are generally free to take disabilities into consideration in any way the transplant team sees fit, often leading to inconsistent results. Despite the fact that 30 members of the US Congress called on OCR to issue guidance on discrimination in organ transplants as a violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act in October 2016, no guidance or instruction appears to have been released.


 If you have any questions regarding the content of this alert, please contact Dena DeFazio, associate attorney, at ddefazio@barclaydamon.com, or another member of the firm's Health Care & Human Services Practice Area.

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