CMS probe finds New Mexico hospital violated patient rights with 'informal' COVID-19 testing policy

A CMS investigation found Lovelace Women's Hospital in Albuquerque profiled pregnant Native American women for COVID-19 testing and separated them from their newborns without adequate consent until test results came back, according to New Mexico In Depth and ProPublica.

CMS launched its investigation after New Mexico In Depth and ProPublica reported June 13 that the hospital was targeting Native American mothers for COVID-19 testing based on tribal-area ZIP codes and separating them from their newborns until test results became available.

Lovelace officials told CMS the practice was halted May 28. They have defended their actions, noting test shortages and conflicting advice during the coronavirus crisis.

Investigators concluded that the hospital's "informal policy to target patients that live on Native American reservations for COVID testing" failed to protect patients' rights, and that Lovelace did not provide clear options for the profiled patients to request or refuse COVID-19 testing and separation from their babies. The investigation also found the ZIP code testing protocol was in place at Lovelace's emergency department in addition to its labor and delivery and perinatal care units.

Hospital officials submitted a plan to address the problems identified by CMS, including internal audits to ensure compliance with state and federal regulations and COVID-19 screening guidance, New Mexico In Depth and ProPublica report. CMS has referred its findings to HHS' Office for Civil Rights.

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