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ST. LOUIS –The Department of Justice reached a settlement with an eating disorders treatment center that turned a Missouri woman away in 2011 because she is HIV-positive. Under the settlement, the Castlewood Treatment Center, LLC must pay $115,000 to the complainant Sue Gibson and $25,000 to the United States in civil penalties, develop and implement an anti-discrimination policy and train its staff on the ADA. The department will monitor Castlewood's compliance for four years. The settlement can be found on the ACLU-EM website.
For nearly six months, Sue Gibson was led by Castlewood staff to believe that she was on a waiting list for the treatment program, only to be told in May 2011 that she had been rejected solely because of her HIV-positive status. At that point, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Eastern Missouri wrote to Castlewood demanding that it cease discriminating against Gibson and admit her to its program.
Castlewood agreed to admit Gibson, but only if she was singled out by having her blood drawn offsite, which is medically unnecessary and stigmatizing. After Castlewood repeatedly demonstrated hostility to Gibson's HIV status, the ACLU referred her case to the DOJ, which investigated her charge and negotiated a settlement. The Department of Justice determined that Castlewood discriminated against Gibson based on her disability and the delay in receiving appropriate treatment caused her health to worsen.
"Discriminating against anyone with HIV in this day and age is futile," said Gibson. "It stigmatizes everyone who lives with the virus so that they may become afraid to disclose their status. The fright over the possibility of spreading HIV has been over for more than a quarter of a century and there is no excuse for the ignorance and hysteria to continue. Common sense is generally all that is needed to prevent the spread of HIV."
Gibson is a former registered nurse who has lived with HIV since 1989. She was treated for anorexia as a pre-teen, and sought treatment at Castlewood in 2010 for a recent relapse. She applied to Castlewood because the center's philosophy appealed to her and the St. Louis location was convenient. She disclosed her HIV status upfront, and was told for a year that she was on the waiting list before they disclosed that her application had been denied. Because she has HIV, Castlewood had rejected her application and then falsely claimed that their license would not allow the facility to treat people with an blood-borne infection. After being turned down, Gibson sought treatment at a center in California, even though she would have preferred to go somewhere closer to her home.
"It's gratifying that Castlewood now acknowledges that there is no reason to exclude people living with HIV from treatment," said Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Eastern Missouri.
HIV is a blood-borne infection, and the spread of it is easily controlled through the CDC-mandated Universal Precautions, which simply explain how to safely avoid contact with blood-based bodily fluids.
"Sue's case shows how much education still needs to be done when it comes to HIV/AIDS," said John Knight, staff attorney with the ACLU AIDS Project. "Health care professionals such as the staff at Castlewood ought to know better than to think that HIV can be easily transmitted. Hopefully this settlement will ensure that no one else will have to go through what Sue experienced at Castlewood."
The ACLU-EM is a non-partisan, not-for-profit membership organization dedicated to the preservation and promotion of civil liberties in eastern Missouri. Located in St. Louis, the ACLU-EM is an affiliate of the national ACLU.