Prosecutors are continuing efforts against providers who refuse to admit patients that require medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction. Hailshadow/Getty Images

A Massachusetts nursing home must pay a $5,000 penalty and revise its admissions policy over an alleged refusal to accept a patient needing medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorder.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Massachusetts and the Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights late last month announced a settlement with The Oaks in New Bedford, saying that its rejection of the patient in need was a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“Opioid Use Disorder is a recognized disability under the ADA, and providers who fail to treat it as such operate outside the law,” Acting U.S. Attorney Nathaniel R. Mendell said in a statement. “This settlement is the latest demonstration of our unending commitment to vindicate the rights of disabled people –—and it will not be the last.”

Such cases have become more common over the last several years, though skilled nursing providers have argued that accepting patients on medically assisted addiction treatment requires specialized training and staff, things that not all facilities can provide. 

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Massachusetts said it had settled similar cases with nine healthcare providers since May of 2018. Last year, it coordinated with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Rhode Island on a settlement with Genesis HealthCare regarding 12 facilities that turned away prospective residents because they were prescribed buprenorphine or methadone to treat opioid use disorder.

In the latest case, prosecutors alleged that in February 2019, The Oaks denied a hospital’s request to take a patient in need of skilled nursing services. The Oaks said it could not accept the individual because he was prescribed Suboxone, a drug combining buprenorphine and naloxone, according to a press release.

Under the settlement, The Oaks must pay a fine to the government, adopt a non-discrimination policy and provide training to its admissions staff. 

“People with OUD (opioid use disorder) do not lose their civil rights because they are prescribed certain medications and OCR is committed to ensuring that people with OUD do not face discrimination in healthcare settings or other areas of life,” said Lisa J. Pino, director of the HHS Office for Civil Rights.