- Office of Attorney General Maura Healey
Media Contact for Oral Surgery Practice Settles Claims That It Denied Access to Care for Patient with Limited English Proficiency
BOSTON — A Lowell oral surgery practice will develop and implement policies and procedures to ensure access for non-English speaking patients, provide training to its doctors, and pay restitution to settle claims that its staff discriminated against a prospective patient based on her national origin, Attorney General Maura Healey announced today.
The assurance of discontinuance, filed in Suffolk Superior Court, settles allegations that Merrimack Valley Oral Surgeons, Inc. (MVOS) violated the state’s public accommodations and consumer protection laws by refusing to provide medical services for a prospective patient who needed an interpreter because she has limited English proficiency. The AG’s Office alleges the practice even refused to allow the prospective patient, an unaccompanied minor from the African country of Eritrea, to have her own interpreter provide Tigrinya-English interpretation at no cost to the practice.
“Those in our refugee and immigrant communities face serious barriers in accessing the health care services they need, and failure to accommodate people with limited English proficiency exacerbates these disparities,” AG Healey said. “We must do everything we can to ensure that all of our residents have equal access to medical care.”
The AG’s Office specifically alleges that in June 2018, the prospective patient was experiencing significant dental pain, and her dentist referred her to MVOS to have her wisdom teeth removed. According to the AG’s Office, a social worker from a program providing assistance to the prospective patient called MVOS to arrange an appointment for her but was told by the office manager that the practice could not accommodate an interpreter. The AG’s Office further alleges that because she was refused care by MVOS, the patient was forced to wait a month for an initial consultation with another doctor and another month after that to have her wisdom teeth removed.
Under the state’s public accommodations law, a medical clinic cannot discriminate or refuse access to someone seeking service because of their national origin. The AG’s Office also alleges that MVOS’ refusal to provide service to the prospective patient constitutes an unfair trade practice under the state’s consumer protection law. The AG’s Office further alleges that MVOS’ actions also violated state regulations that prohibit MassHealth providers from engaging in any practice that constitutes unlawful discrimination under any state or federal law or regulation. The nondiscrimination provisions of the federal Affordable Care Act require that providers that receive federal funds take reasonable steps to ensure meaningful access for patients with limited English proficiency.
Under the terms of the assurance of discontinuance, MVOS is required to provide medical services to patients and prospective patients without regard to their English proficiency; to provide accurate and timely interpretation services to all patients with limited English proficiency who request these services; to obtain translations of vital documents for patients; to post a multilingual statement notifying patients of the availability of language access services on the practice’s website and in its offices; and to develop and implement a language access plan for approval by the AG’s Office.
MVOS must train its doctors and staff on compliance with these laws and regulations and post notices of nondiscrimination in its offices. The company must also maintain its current status on MassHealth and Medicare provider panels for the next five years and pay $5,000 in restitution to the patient. MVOS is also required to comply with all state and federal anti-discrimination laws as well as regulations governing MassHealth, Medicare, Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act.
In July, AG Healey co-led a coalition of attorneys general in suing the Trump Administration to prevent a roll-back in federal anti-discrimination protections for patients who have limited English proficiency, including requirements for interpretation and translation services. The lawsuit alleges the rule invites health care providers and insurers to discriminate against certain vulnerable populations by rolling back implementation of Section 1557 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, disability or age by health programs or facilities that receive federal funds.
In November, AG Healey released a report advancing a far-reaching set of recommendations for reducing health inequities that impact communities of color in Massachusetts. The report – Building Toward Racial Justice and Equity in Health: A Call to Action –calls for action in five domains: data for identifying and addressing health disparities, equitable distribution of health care resources, telehealth as a tool for expanding equitable access to care, health care workforce diversity, and social determinants of health and root causes of health inequities.
The AG’s Office encourages residents who have concerns about discrimination by a medical provider to call the office’s Civil Rights Division at 617-963-2917 or to file a complaint.
This matter was handled by Assistant Attorney General Ann Lynch, of AG Healey’s Civil Rights Division, and Paralegal Sharon Coles, of the AG’s Office in Western Massachusetts.