The federal government this week announced a settlement with a Massachusetts operator over allegations that the company discriminated against residents with opioid use disorder (OUD).
Next Step Healthcare, which operates 21 SNFs in the state, reportedly denied admission to 548 patients who were prescribed drugs for OUD, according to a statement released by the US Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts.
As part of its agreement with the government, Next Step will pay a civil penalty of $92,383; $10,000 of the total amount will be paid now, while the rest can be canceled if Next Step meets the terms of the agreement.
Namely, to adopt a policy of non-discrimination regarding the provision of services to people with disabilities, including patients being treated for a substance abuse disorder and people taking medication for an opioid use disorder.
People receiving such treatment are considered disabled under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits private health care providers from discriminating on the basis of disability.
These patients sought care from Next Step for health issues unrelated to their addiction, but they also needed medication to treat their opioid abuse disorder.
“We appreciate Next Step’s cooperation in changing its policies and practices to comply with the ADA, and we strongly encourage other skilled nursing facilities to proactively do the same,” said the U.S. attorney. Rachael Rollins in a statement.
Next Step did not respond to Skilled Nursing News’ request for additional comment.
The Massachusetts case is consistent with recent updates to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) participation rules in June — the agency aims to better address the rights and services available to residents with health needs. mental health using its behavioral health strategy.
At a higher level, CMS strives to elevate clinical practices with the goal of improving the quality of care in nursing homes.
Drug addiction is considered a mental illness, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse; addiction alters the brain in fundamental ways, changing priorities and disrupting a person’s hierarchy of needs and wants.
This is the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s 10th settlement agreement with an SNF operator, according to the state’s DOJ. The office has entered into 16 settlement agreements and six resolution letters to ensure ADA compliance related to the treatment of opioid use disorder.
“The District of Massachusetts is leading the nation in this important type of work and will continue to champion the ADA and support those with substance use disorders,” the statement read.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michelle Leung, Gregory Dorchak, and Annapurna Balakrishna of Rollins’ Civil Division handled the case.