In a statement released late yesterday afternoon, the Department of Justice announced it reached a settlement with Castlewood Treatment Center for Eating Disorders over its refusal to treat an HIV-positive woman suffering from anorexia.
Susan Gibson, a mid-Missouri resident, tried to gain acceptance to the center after suffering her second eating disorder relapse. She was told by staff that there was a waiting period of up to three months.
Behind the scenes, however, Gibson's admittance was being intentionally delayed because of her HIV status, an investigation by the DOJ concluded.
Gibson, who is HIV-positive, battled anorexia as a preteen and relapsed because she was "living in a stressful situation." She first tried to get help from Castlewood in November 2010. There were significant delays in her admittance, which on the surface were over payment. In reality, however, Gibson's HIV status became the real issue. From the settlement:
Castlewood then informed Ms. Gibson that she would be admitted and sent her intake paperwork. However, beginning March 7, 2011, the Executive Director instructed her staff to delay Ms. Gibson's admission so that Ms. Gibson would go somewhere else, stating: "We hope to delay it long enough so she will go somewhere else." The Executive Director further instructed the Intake Coordinator to "be vague" when communicating with Ms. Gibson because "we want her to go somewhere else."
Castlewood's Intake Coordinator was in frequent telephone and e-mail contact with Ms. Gibson between February 23 and April 18, 2011. These contacts identified the payment agreement as the cause of the delay and encouraged Ms. Gibson to seek treatment elsewhere, while simultaneously assuring her that she would be admitted as soon as her payment agreement was resolved.
During this time -- seven months in total -- Gibson got sicker. She experienced dramatic weight loss and emotional distress. At one point she told Castlewood she "felt like she was dying."
Finally, Castlewood informed Gibson that they would not admit her "due to her HIV" and because it is their policy not to "accept clients with high risk communicable diseases."
Gibson contacted the ACLU of Eastern Missouri, which got in touch with Castlewood. The facility reversed its refusal to treat Gibson, but only under the condition that she have all her weekly blood draws done at an outside hospital. That mind-blowing stipulation lead the ACLU to make a formal complaint to the Department of Justice, saying this was a clear violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
"They took it very seriously," says Tony Rothert, legal director for the ACLU-ME. "It's a horrible case. They made her sicker by discriminating against her."
Castlewood finally offered Gibson immediate admittance without any bizarre provisions in July 2011, but by then Gibson had wisely chosen to get treatment elsewhere. She was admitted to a program in California a full ten months after she first tried to get help.
The DOJ conducted an investigation and concluded that Castlewood discriminated against Gibson. The center has been ordered to train all their staff on the Americans with Disabilities Act, submit to four years of monitoring and pay Gibson $115,000. Add the $25,000 fine in civil penalties and it's the second largest combined settlement in an HIV discrimination case. The DOJ released this statement along with the announcement:
"Excluding a person from necessary medical treatment solely because of HIV is unconscionable," said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. "The Civil Rights Division takes HIV discrimination in any form seriously, and will not allow for the marginalization of those living with HIV."
Gibson also released a statement through her ACLU attorneys. It says in part:
There is one simple way to prevent the spread of blood-borne infections, and that is through the use of Universal Precautions, which is a practice mandated by the CDC that simply means you do not come into contact with someone else's blood-based body fluids. Saliva is safe. A condom and common sense are generally all that are needed to prevent the spread of HIV. All the fright is over; it has been over for more than a quarter of a century (since the virus was identified and its mode of transmission understood) and there is no excuse for the ignorance and hysteria to continue.
In the settlement, Castlewood denied that it had discriminated against Gibson and the executive director said "she believed that Ms. Gibson would receive more appropriate care in an in-patient facility due to her HIV." Here's the statement they've issued through their attorneys at Sitrick and Company, a firm based in Los Angeles:
Castlewood's sole intent in this matter was to assure optimal patient care. After evaluating all pertinent factors Castlewood's professional staff concluded that the prospective patient would receive more appropriate care at an in-patient facility. Castlewood has always and continues to put the interests of those seeking treatment above everything else and does not discriminate in patient care.
Castlewood's been in trouble before. At last count, three former patients are suing the clinic for implanting false memories of Satanic abuse during therapy and keeping them in treatment far longer than necessary in order to continue charging fees. Castlewood has maintained all along that these allegations are lies and "the stuff of Hollywood." This new case seems to prove at the very least that there is something amiss at the center.