The operator of 16 skilled nursing facilities in Massachusetts has agreed to pay $10,000 to settle federal discrimination claims that alleged the provider turned away patients being treated for opioid use disorder.
Athena Health Care Systems also has agreed to adopt a non-discrimination policy and provide training on the Americans with Disabilities Act and opioid use disorder with admissions employees, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office District of Massachusetts.
The SNF operator said that it fully cooperated with the attorney’s office investigation and it’s now working to ensure its policies fully comply with the ADA in a statement to McKnight’s.
“Athena and its managed centers share in the struggle with individuals and families facing opioid addiction and other substance use disorders and will continue to provide much needed care and services. We look forward to continuing our mission of providing quality care and great customer service to our patients and their families,” the company said.
Individuals who were trying to be admitted into Athena facilities filed two complaints against the operator. The complaints alleged the individuals were denied treatment because they were using buprenorphine, a medication used to treat opioid use disorder.
Nursing providers were warned by experts last year that federal investigators could begin cracking down on facilities that refuse admission to patients being treated for opioid addiction.
The individuals were seeking treatment for issues unrelated to their opioid addictions, but required the facilities to administer their buprenorphine medication, like any other medication. Typically, people being treated for opioid addiction are considered disabled under the ADA, which prohibits private healthcare providers from discriminating on the basis of disability.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office commended Athena for cooperating with the investigation and working to modify its policies.
“Medically-assisted treatment is a powerful tool for helping people in recovery to avoid relapse. To that end, my office will continue to identify and eliminate illegal barriers to treatment,” U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling said in a statement. “We encourage other entities to proactively do the same (as Athena).”