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Quality, and equality, of care (MS)

BARRIERS TO good care at hospitals are just one of many reasons that people with disabilities suffer health disparities as sharp as those facing racial and ethnic minorities. Still, hospitals are a good place to start in making care truly accessible for those with disabilities. On Friday, two Partners Healthcare hospitals agreed to spend millions on new equipment and other capital improvements to make sure that persons with disabilities can get examinations and treatments of equal quality with other patients.

The inequality of care comes through loud and clear in national data. According to a report released this spring by the Disability Policy Consortium, persons with a disability are 41 percent more likely to have a cancer diagnosed in a late stage than the population at large. The two Partners hospitals – Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women’s – list more accessible mammography machines, for early detection of breast cancer, as one of the likely improvements they will be making.

Also high on the hospitals’ list is the development of a training program to make sure caregivers – including doctors, nurses, and support staff – all understand and can respond to the needs of patients with disabilities. Such sensitivity on the part of personnel is crucial to making persons with disabilities feel welcome in hospitals. Many patients recount dismaying experiences of being handled disrespectfully or of doctors giving them only cursory examinations because they are in a wheelchair.

Healthcare facilities throughout the state would be under greater pressure to remove physical and social barriers if the Legislature would pass a bill that would require the state’s council on minority groups’ health disparities to extend its responsibility to persons with disabilities. There should be no reason that having a disability compromises a person’s general healthcare.