BOSTON — The U.S. Attorney’s Office has reached an agreement with Next Step Healthcare, LLC (Next Step), the operator of 21 skilled nursing facilities in Massachusetts, to resolve allegations that Next Step violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by refusing patients who indicated that they had been prescribed medication for opioid use disorder (MOUD).
“No one would ever choose to have a substance use disorder. The destruction this disease inflicts on its victims is unconscionable. When people finally find the strength and courage to be open to recovery, they must be greeted with support and understanding, not discrimination and barriers to health care,” said U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins. “As our Commonwealth continues to grapple with an opioid epidemic, this office will ensure that people who receive MOUD have access to the health care they are legally entitled to and often need. 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.
People receiving treatment for an opioid use disorder are generally considered disabled under the ADA, which, among other things, prohibits private health care providers from discriminating on the basis of disability. The United States alleges that Next Step denied admission to 548 individuals who indicated that they were prescribed MOUD while seeking admission to Next Step’s programs. These people asked to be admitted to the facilities for health problems unrelated to their addiction, but also asked the MOUD to treat their OUD.
Under the terms of the agreement, Next Step will, among other things, adopt a non-discrimination policy regarding the provision of services to people with disabilities, including people with SUD or people under MOUD, provide training on related discrimination to Disability and SUD to Admissions Staff, pay a civil penalty of $92,383 to the United States, of which $10,000 will be paid now and $82,393 will be suspended and waived if Next Step materially complies with the terms of the agreement .
This case is part of an ongoing effort by the U.S. Attorney’s Office to remove discriminatory barriers to the treatment of OUD through the enforcement of the ADA. This is the United States Attorney’s Office’s 10th settlement agreement with a qualified nursing facility operator. The Bureau has now entered into 16 settlement agreements and six resolution letters to ensure ADA compliance stemming from OUD processing. The District of Massachusetts is leading the nation in this important type of work and will continue to champion the ADA and support people with substance use disorders.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michelle Leung, Gregory Dorchak, and Annapurna Balakrishna of Rollins’ Civil Division handled the case.
The United States Attorney’s Office Civil Rights Unit was established in 2015 with a mission to improve federal civil rights enforcement. For more information about the Bureau’s civil rights efforts, please visit www.justice.gov/usao-ma/civil-rights