MILWAUKEE – The U.S. Department of Justice has resolved complaints against Aurora Health Care filed on behalf of two individuals with HIV by the ACLU of Wisconsin and the national ACLU’s HIV Project. Two Aurora doctors expressed unfounded concerns about treating patients with HIV, and one refused to provide treatment entirely because of the patient’s HIV status.
The ACLU helped file complaints alleging disability discrimination under both federal and state law, and Aurora’s agreement resolves all of those claims. Aurora previously took steps immediately after the complaints were filed to improve and expand training on health care providers’ obligation not to discriminate against patients with HIV.
“Doctors should know better than to continue this irrational and discriminatory treatment of people living with HIV,” said John Knight, of the ACLU’s national Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and HIV Project. “I’m hopeful this settlement will remind other medical providers to put science ahead of irrational prejudice and may help prevent other people with HIV from going through what our clients experienced.”
The daughter of one of the complainants, Megan Wadlington, took her father, Kenneth Wadlington, to an Aurora facility to have a catheter removed. The doctor they saw refused to remove the catheter, saying that he usually removed catheters in the morning, while also expressing fears that he could not remove the catheter without creating a risk of infecting others in his office with HIV. The doctor’s expression of baseless concern about transmission of HIV was deeply upsetting to Ms. Wadlington and her father, who went to a different doctor to have the catheter removed several days later.
“Doctors are highly trained – and highly paid – professionals and should know that HIV transmission can be easily prevented using universal precautions,” Ms. Wadlington said. “I hope this settlement sends a message to all health care providers that ill-informed discrimination against patients with HIV is intolerable.”
Mr. Wadlington has since passed away due to health issues unrelated to his HIV, but made it clear to Megan how important it was to him to ensure that others living with HIV did not face the treatment he experienced.
When the second client, who has asked that his name not be used to protect his privacy, informed an Aurora surgeon that he had HIV, the surgeon told him that for “personal” reasons he would not perform surgery on a person with HIV, because he considered the risk of transmission too high. He then told the client, “The exit is right there. If you need a letter from me for another surgeon, I can give you one.” The client was extremely distraught due to this treatment and later found that the surgeon even wrote in the medical records that he was refusing to treat him because of his HIV.
In response to the ACLU’s complaints, U.S. Department of Justice attorneys investigated the physicians’ conduct and negotiated a settlement with Aurora for policy changes, including mandatoryphysician and other staff training on non-discrimination obligations, andreporting for two years to ensure that similar incidents do not occur in thefuture. The settlement also compensates those who experienced the discriminatory treatment.
“Caring people today look back with regret on the discrimination that those with HIV and AIDS have experienced, especially in the early years of the epidemic, but unfortunately even today,” said Chris Ott, ACLU of Wisconsin Executive Director. “Fear and prejudice lead to unnecessary isolation and suffering, and they actually help the virus to spread, by discouraging treatment or even discussion.”
The United States Center for Disease Control (CDC) says that transmission of HIV to health care workers is extremely rare, and can be minimized by following universal precautions and post-exposure treatment.
For more than 90 years, the ACLU has been our nation’s guardian of liberty, working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties that the Constitution and laws of the United States guarantee everyone in this country. The ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation, a non-profit, non-partisan, private organization whose 24,000 members support its efforts to defend the civil rights and liberties of all Wisconsin residents, is the Wisconsin Affiliate of the ACLU. For more on the ACLU of Wisconsin, visit our , like us on or follow us on Twitter at and .