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April 6, 2020Press Release

COVID-19 Civil Rights Complaint Filed Against Pennsylvania’s Medical Treatment Rationing Guidelines

COVID-19 Civil Rights Complaint Filed Against Pennsylvania’s Medical Treatment Rationing Guidelines by Disability Rights Pennsylvania and other Pennsylvania Disability Advocacy Organizations


For Immediate Release
April 6, 2020

Press contact:

Kelly Darr, Legal Director
Disability Rights Pennsylvania
(215) 238-8070 ext. 221 


Philadelphia, PA | On Friday, Disability Rights Pennsylvania (DRP), together with other disability advocacy organizations from across the state, filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights challenging Pennsylvania’s guidelines for rationing of health care in the event that the COVID-19 pandemic leads to a shortage of health care resources.  Pennsylvania’s rationing scheme entitled “Interim Pennsylvania Crisis Standards of Care for Pandemic Guidelines (March 22, 2020) (PA Guidelines), which were developed without any input from the disability community, discriminates against and jeopardizes the lives of people with disabilities.  

The PA Guidelines violate Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and Section 1557 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA).  DRP requested a determination that the PA Guidelines discriminate against individuals with disabilities in violation of federal law.  

The PA Guidelines unlawfully exclude or limit individuals with disabilities from access to health care based on, among other discriminatory factors, myths, stereotypes, and unfounded assumptions about people with disabilities.  Under the PA Guidelines, people with disabilities are deemed to be a lower priority simply because of their disabilities despite their ability to survive COVID-19 infection with appropriate critical care treatment.  

The Pennsylvania Guidelines also raise concerns about the reallocation of ventilators used by patients in their daily lives unrelated to COVID-19.  Such individuals must be allowed to continue to use this life-sustaining equipment while receiving COVID-19 treatment at the hospital without the risk that they will be subject to the PA Standards’ criteria for withdrawal of care.  

Gina Marie Coccia is a 55-year-old woman with intellectual disability, insulin-dependent brittle diabetes, obesity, airway disease, an immunodeficiency disorder, and congestive heart failure, among other medical issues.  Gina lives a full and wonderful life in the community with her mother and legal guardian, Audrey Coccia, and her family.  Gina and her family are extremely fearful that she will be denied life-saving critical care if hospitalized with COVID-19 because she would be given a low Priority Score based on her disabilities rather than her immediate-term survivability if given treatment.    

“Pennsylvania’s plan for deciding who gets scarce medical resources like ventilators overtly de-values the lives of people with disabilities simply because they have disabilities,” said Kelly Darr, DRP’s Legal Director.  We are urging the Office of Civil Rights to act with urgency and to tell Pennsylvania that it cannot discriminate against people with disabilities in violation of long-standing federal laws.

DRP is urging Pennsylvania be directed to develop a policy that: (1) requires health care professionals to base all treatment decisions on objective criteria, rather than assumptions, stereotypes, or myths; (2) prohibits health care professionals from using any specific diagnosis, disability, illness, health status, or pre-existing condition as a consideration or factor in whether to provide health care; (3) prohibits health care professionals from considering quality of life in assessing whether to provide health care; (4) prohibiting health care professionals from using an individual’s prognosis as a consideration in whether to provide health care unless it is based on an individualized assessment of immediate-term survivability; and (5) prohibiting health care professionals from refusing, denying, withholding, or withdrawing treatment for a patient based on the expectation that he or she will require treatment (e.g., use of a ventilator) for a longer time than others who need treatment.

Let me be clear: we do not want to see anyone be denied access to life-saving medical treatment,” said Darr.  “We hope that we will have the resources needed across Pennsylvania to provide health care to all who need it.  But if decisions about who gets limited health care resources need to be made, the PA Guidelines would unfairly result in the deaths of people with disabilities.  That is simply unacceptable.” 

DRP is the organization designated by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania as the protection and advocacy system pursuant to federal laws.  DRP is charged under these laws with protecting individuals with disabilities against abuse and neglect, with advocating for such individuals to assure protection of their rights, and to pursue legal remedies in furtherance of these rights.

This Complaint follows similar complaints that have been filed by protection and advocacy and other disability advocacy organizations in Washington, Alabama, Tennessee and Kansas.

The PA Guidelines can be found at