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IMPORTANT NEWS: WA State Department of Health to show its commitment to people with developmental disabilities

In response to Disability Rights Washington’s recent complaint filed with the federal Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights Division (HHS), disability advocates from the Washington State Developmental Disabilities Council and The Arc of Washington State met with representatives from the Washington State Department of Health and the Governor’s Office yesterday.  The purpose of this meeting was to discuss concerns expressed in the DRW complaint and better understand language that appears in a document called “Scarce Resource Management & Crisis Standards of Care”.

Secretary John Wiesman participated in this call along with other representatives of his Department and these were the take-aways from that call.

· First and foremost, care rationing in our state is not occurring and all priorities are going toward preventing the use of any guidance when resources are scarce and there is not enough staff, supplies, or space to properly provide care for every person who needs it.

· The document referred to in DRW’s complaint has been a work in progress since 2009 and was recently updated following a statewide tour to engage historically marginalized communities to get input and feedback from traditionally oppressed groups, including people who identify as racially or linguistically diverse, LGBTQ, based on educational level or socioeconomic level, and people with disabilities, including people with physical disabilities, developmental disabilities, with behavioral health needs, and children with special health care needs.  The point of the update was to prevent discrimination from occurring if our state was ever faced with care rationing.

· The document was not developed with COVID-19 in mind specifically, it included any “disaster” including earthquake, any pandemics, and massive community events.  There was some older language about “frailty” that was replaced with more neutral language about “baseline functional status” to help medical personnel assess a person’s likelihood of surviving even with intervention.

· The word “cognition” was flagged and the DOH representatives agreed there is no need for this terminology and will be meeting to revise the language.  There was consensus it generally referred to the elderly who were frail and unlikely to have the reserves to recover from a serious illness.

· There was clear consensus in the meeting that a developmental disability would NOT be a factor in any decision-making about rationing of care.

· To be clear, no person with a developmental disability or person with a disability should currently be experiencing any difficulty getting access to care, particularly for COVID-19.

· There is no intent by the Department of Health to make decisions for COVID-19 care or any care rationing based on a person having a developmental disability and the documents will be revised over the next several weeks with input from disability advocates to ensure that is made clear.

It is expected that the Department of Health will reach out to consult on a new iteration of the management document after their equity committee and other disaster advisory committees meet in the next few weeks.

We have also requested that Washington state through its Department of Health and Healthcare Authority make a similar “values statement” and clarification as was made by the federal HHS Office for Civil Rights on March 28, 2020

and by the California Departments of Health and their equivalent healthcare authority (attached).

We hope this comes as good news for our community who can feel more assured that the language that may have lead to some miscommunication about the intent for medical intervention SHOULD any rationing occur is being corrected.

We will be vigilantly following up on the changes and corrections and we look forward to providing additional communication and information as we continue to work with the Department of Health to show its commitment to people with developmental disabilities in this unprecedented time of crisis.


Sue Elliott, The Arc of Washington State

Jeremy Norden-Paul, The Washington State Developmental Disabilities Council

Kyle Matheson
Eric Matthes


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