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WAAY 31 I-Team: Alabama's old triage guideline on who lives and dies sparks outrage, complaints

ADPH said the 2010 guideline is not the one they go by anymore. They updated the latest guidelines in February 2020.

Posted: Mar 31, 2020 4:04 PM
Updated: Mar 31, 2020 8:51 PM

Tuesday, WAAY31 sifted through misinformation, confusion, and complaints over a 2010 Alabama public health guideline that states people with severe mental disabilities should not be given a ventilator in a pandemic like the one were in.

This is a direct quote from the states 2010 ventilator triage (pg. 8 section E) guideline in a mass casualty event. It says, "Persons with severe or profound mental retardation, moderate to severe dementia, or catastrophic neurological complications such as persistent vegetative state are unlikely candidates for ventilator support."

The document also said people with cardiac issues, or cancer shouldn't have ventilators in a crisis either.

WAAY31 learned Tuesday that 2010 guideline is still up online but outdated and it's not the one the state uses anymore. After WAAY31 found the 2010 document online we reached out to the Alabama Department of Public Health. The department said old or new the guidelines are just guidelines, meaning it's not binding. The ultimate decision on who gets a ventilator and who doesn't, if there is a shortage, is up to the doctor.

The department then directed WAAY31 to it's new guidelines for triage. The new guidelines put out in February 2020 has graphs and other directives in a mass casualty situation. A graphic on page 25 says if a doctor knows someone cannot survive their injuries or illness give them pain relief and move on to someone who can be saved.

The verbiage in their new plan February 2020 plan says, "All people deserve equal respect, and with this in mind, the allocation of care cannot discriminate based on anything that is not directly relevant to the eligibility of individuals to receive care."

Which is a stark contrast from the 2010 plan that basically said people with severe mental or neurological disabilities wouldn't be good candidates for a ventilator if it came down to it. That 2010 guideline sparked outrage with advocacy groups and lead to the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program filing a complaint with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights over this 2010 guideline.

James Tucker, the Director of the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program said, "In this time of crisis, we cannot devalue the lives of others in our community based on their disabilities. It’s morally wrong, and it violates the law."

WAAY31 reached out to the legal counsel for the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program to see if they called the department of public health to see if the 2010 guideline was still active before filing the complaint. They have not called us back. It's unclear if the advocacy groups knew this guideline was not the newest one before filing the complaint.

WAAY31 also called the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services office of Civil Rights they said they don't comment on possible investigations or complaints.

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