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Groups file complaint against Alabama’s emergency plan for use of ventilators

ICU anaesthesia ventilator workstation in the emergency room in stand by mode.

Two groups filed a federal complaint over Alabama’s “last resort” plan that could ration ventilators during a pandemic like the COVID-19 outbreak, preventing many disabled people and those with other underlying medical conditions from getting the lifesaving treatment. 

On Tuesday, the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program and The Arc of the United States filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights that argues the Alabama Department of Public Health’s emergency operations plan violates disabled persons’ federal disability rights laws. 

According to the state’s plan, last updated in 2010, under a “last resort” condition hospitals are ordered to not offer mechanical ventilator support for patients, including children, with “severe or profound mental retardation,” “moderate to severe dementia,” and “severe traumatic brain injury.” 

“In this time of crisis, we cannot devalue the lives of others in our community based on their disabilities. It’s morally wrong, and it violates the law. We implore OCR to rein in and provide urgently needed guidance to the health care professionals who are prepared to relegate members of our community to die,” said James Tucker, Director of the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program, in a statement. “If OCR fails to act swiftly to clearly and firmly articulate the violation of civil rights implicated by the Alabama ventilator rationing plan, there will be no way to undo the lethal outcome of the plan should it go into effect.”

There were at least 283 confirmed COVID-19 cases across 28 Alabama counties, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health. 

The number of COVID-19 patients requiring hospitalization at UAB alone rose from 17 on Monday to 45 on Tuesday, and approximately 40 percent were on ventilators. 

APR reported that as of Wednesday more than a hundred people are hospitalized statewide with a confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19 or illness the hospital highly suspects of being the virus. At UAB, as of Wednesday morning, half of the 60 total COVID-19 patients are on ventilators.

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Approximately 555 of the state hospitals’ 1,344 ventilators on hand are in use on any given day, meaning the state has a surge capacity of around 800 ventilators. 

“Guidance is needed immediately, given that the pandemic is spreading at a rapid pace and the number of confirmed cases and deaths is climbing each day,” the complaint regarding Alabama’s emergency plan states. 

Attempts to reach an ADPH spokesman on Wednesday weren’t immediately successful.

Gena Richardson, Executive Director of The Arc Alabama, in a statement said that the federal government needs to make clear that it will swiftly enforce federal laws that protect against medical rationing plans that discriminate against people with disabilities.

“It is cruel that our constituents in Alabama seeking medical treatment during this pandemic may not receive the care they need or they may be left to suffer or die because they are seen as less than or other,” Richardson said in the statement. “The lives of millions of people with disabilities across the nation are at stake – and their lives have value.” 

Eddie Burkhalter is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or reach him via Twitter.

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