The COVID-19 crisis has prompted hospitals to change some of their policies and practices. For instance, to limit the spread of COVID-19, many healthcare facilities in North Carolina have restricted visitor access. However, hospitals must ensure that all policies adopted in response to COVID-19, including no-visitor policies, allow for reasonable accommodations for patients with disabilities. 

Patients with certain disabilities may need assistance from caregivers to ensure equal access to treatment and effective communication with healthcare workers. They might also need help to access disability-related services the hospital can’t provide. When appropriate, exceptions must be made to the restrictive visitor policy to allow access for caregivers of patients with disabilities.

Rush University Medical Center in Chicago has implemented a policy that recognizes necessary exceptions to no-visitor policies:

“Patients with disabilities who need assistance due to the specifics of their disability may have one designated support person with them. This could include specific needs due to altered mental status, intellectual or cognitive disability, communication barriers or behavioral concerns. If a patient with a disability requires an accommodation that involves the presence of a family member, personal care assistant, or similar disability service provider, knowledgeable about the management of their care, to physically or emotionally assist them during their hospitalization, this will be allowed with proper precautions taken to contain the spread of infection.”

Disability Rights NC urges hospitals in North Carolina to implement similar policies to ensure compliance with federal law and equal access to treatment for patients with disabilities. Even in the absence of such policies, hospitals must consider and, when appropriate, grant requests for reasonable accommodations.

If your request for a reasonable accommodation has been denied, contact Disability Rights NC at 919-856-2195. You may also file a civil rights complaint with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services or an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Grievance with the NC Department of Health and Human Services.

More information about exceptions to no-visitor policies:

Caregivers in Hospitals”  This fact sheet contains additional information about how to self-advocate if your request for a caregiver is denied.