The Arc Maryland enlisted the help of our attorney team at Brown & Barron and Disability Rights Maryland (DRM) to sue the city of Baltimore and five other Maryland counties. The suit alleges that the six defendants have denied opportunities for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) to access COVID-19 vaccines and, therefore, discriminated against the IDD community.The Arc Maryland — represented by DRM, The Arc of the United States, and Brown & Barron — filed the suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland Northern Division on March 8, 2021 against the city of Baltimore and Carroll, Garrett, Queen Anne’s, Somerset, and Talbot counties.In the suit, The Arc Maryland asserts that each of the six defendants has failed to list individuals with IDD as eligible for COVID-19 vaccination under Phase 1B of the state vaccine priority plan. This exclusion is inconsistent with Maryland’s Executive Order and Vaccination Plan. Moreover, it is in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.“Simply put, this discrimination puts lives at stake,” said Ray Marshall, Board President of The Arc Maryland.
After all, the reason why the IDD community was given priority in the state vaccine plan is because numerous studies have indicated that people with IDD are at a high risk for COVID-19. This risk may be heightened for those who require the assistance of full-time caregivers or direct support professionals, even more so for those who obtain this assistance from a provider organization.
What’s worse, according to a study published in the NEJM Catalyst, national COVID-19 fatality rates among people with IDD are 2 to 3 times greater than mortality rates among the general population.
“People with intellectual and developmental disabilities have faced and overcome incredible obstacles over the past year,” Marshall noted. “It is frustrating to have our state recognize people with IDD to be the 1B priority group for the vaccine, only for people with IDD to be denied equitable access to the vaccine from the counties in which they live.”
For instance, Ivis Burris is a Baltimore resident who has muscular dystrophy and requires the help of in-home support staff. Thus, she is eligible under Phase 1B, as is her adult son who has Down syndrome. Yet when Ms. Burris went to the Baltimore COVID-19 website to schedule an appointment, she saw that people with IDD were not on the list of eligible persons under Phase 1B. This led her to believe that neither she nor her son was eligible for vaccination at the time.
“I want a fair chance like everybody else to live,” Ms. Burris explained. “My son deserves a fair chance to live. Considering our situation – I need a ventilator to breathe and my son is at higher risk because of his Down syndrome – it is really critical that we get the vaccine. Our disabilities put us at higher risk.”
Those who became eligible under Phase 1B, including those with IDD, remain eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Still, the inaccurate information spread by these six jurisdictions effectively impeded the IDD community’s access to the vaccine.
Per recent projections, there are about 93,000 Maryland residents who live with IDD, and only a fraction of these individuals receive support from a Developmental Disabilities Administration (DDA) provider in a congregate setting.
“Ensuring that vulnerable populations have access to life-saving vaccines and that the
State’s distribution plan prioritizing these populations is followed is in accordance with Brown & Barron’s core principles and values of promoting access to quality healthcare for all,” said Attorney Brian S. Brown, Managing Member of Brown & Barron. “We are proud to stand behind The Arc in supporting these individuals and communities at this crucial time.”