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Utah isn't doing enough to protect disabled from COVID-19, advocacy group says

Posted at 4:21 PM, Jul 27, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-27 20:48:11-04

SANDY, Utah  — A legal advocacy group has filed a complaint with the federal government, criticizing the state for not exercising enough oversight of facilities that house those with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Disability Law Center said it had received a complaint about COVID-19 cases inside a Sandy care center for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities where people were not being quarantined and were only given one face covering to protect themselves from the virus.

The complaint was filed last week with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Medicare and Medicaid. A copy of it was shared with FOX 13.

"We want to make sure everyone is getting the care they deserve," said Nate Crippes, an attorney with the Disability Law Center.

The complaint centers around Hillcrest Care Center, which disputes the allegations. The Disability Law Center said it received information that after one person tested positive for COVID-19, that individual's roommates were not moved out. The DLC claims that "due to the nature of the facility, once an outbreak begins in an ICF the state assumes everyone in the facility will also contract the virus."

"The state's response to COVID-19 in [intermediate care facilities] is to simply let it spread throughout the facility," the complaint states.

Crippes said that runs counter to Utah Department of Health guidance for other long-term care facilities involving the elderly, who are quarantined and, in some cases, moved to an entirely different facility.

"Our big concern is that once one person, or a couple people in an ICF test positive, it doesn’t seem like the state or the facility is taking the proper precautions to ensure that it isn’t spreading just throughout the facility. These are often big facilities with a lot people per room. We’ve brought it to the legislature," he told FOX 13.

But Hillcrest Care Center said the state has provided guidance, response teams and personal protective equipment. Even the Utah National Guard, which was deployed to assist with care centers dealing with COVID-19, sent a response team to do a walkthrough of their facility, giving advice and training, said Brian Heugly, the center's administrator.

"We’ve taken very reasonable measures to protect our clients against COVID-19," he told FOX 13.

Heugly said the center has gone 10 days now with no new positive cases. Collectively, 18 of the facility's 53 residents had tested positive for COVID-19.

"Isolation’s a challenge with the population we serve here, and compliance with PPE," he said, referring to the nature of some of the disabilities. "Some residents are great about wearing masks and staying in their rooms. Other residents, it’s very difficult with other residents to keep them isolated in their rooms."

In a statement to FOX 13, Utah's Department of Health said it was reviewing the Disability Law Center's specific issues.

"The Utah Department of Health is reviewing the specific complaint regarding COVID-19 and intermediate care facilities. The Department has been aggressive in responding to outbreaks at all long-term care facilities, including intermediate care facilities. We remain committed to ensuring vulnerable Utahns receive care in the best, and safest, possible environment," the agency said.

Crippes said the state needed to exercise more oversight over these facilities.

"We would hope [the state] would take some type of action to ensure they’re treated equally and fairly and getting the care they need," he said.