York vet with HIV still faces battles
The fight is not yet over for one York veteran who claims in a federal lawsuit filed Thursday that an area health care provider both discriminated against her and unlawfully disclosed her status as a person living with HIV.
Bonnie Jones, a pseudonym the plaintiff is using to protect her privacy, served two active-duty tours in Iraq, first from 2005 to 2006 and again from 2009 to 2010. During much of her time spent in combat zones, Jones, now 40, had to wear a bulletproof vest, and as a result she suffers from chronic pain and limited range of motion in her spine, according to the suit.
It was in her effort seeking treatment for this condition, her attorney said, that Jones was discriminated against and wrongfully outed.
"That is a violation of state and federal law," Ronda Goldfein said.
Goldfein filed the suit with the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.
Goldfein, the executive director of the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania, is representing Jones in the suit against OSS Orthopedic Hospital LLC, OSS Health, Drayer Physical Therapy institute and Timothy Burch.
The AIDS Law Project is a statewide, public-interest law firm founded in 1988 that acts as a nonprofit, providing free legal services for people who have contracted and are living with HIV and AIDS who have suffered discrimination. Goldfein has been with the project since 1992 and has served as director since 2000.
Therapy appointment: Goldfein said Jones found OSS in the phone book. She scheduled an appointment there and met with a physical therapist on June 26, 2015.
OSS, also known as OSS Health, is an orthopedic care specialist with five locations in York, Adams and Cumberland counties and is owned by Drayer Physical Therapy institute, an operator of 130 physical therapy centers in 16 states, according to the suit.
Jones' appointment took place at the OSS health facility at 1855 Powder Mill Road in York, the suit said.
According to the suit, therapist Timothy Burch met with Jones, evaluated her and was made aware of her HIV status. He informed Jones that because of the nature of her spinal injuries she was a good candidate for aquatic therapy, but he had to check first to see if she would be allowed in the pool.
When he returned a few moments later, Goldfein said, he told Jones in front of approximately 25 other people who were working out in the gymnasium that she would not be allowed in the pool because she had HIV.
"She was horrified," Goldfein said. "You can imagine somebody saying to you, 'You can't go in the pool because you have a virus.' We're 35 years into HIV, folks know clearly how HIV is transmitted."
She said despite the fact Jones is a "tough gal," she was distraught after being outed so publicly. Until that point, Jones had only disclosed her condition to close friends and medical providers. The suit alleges that when Burch made the statement about her having HIV, the 20 to 30 people in the gym looked up and stared at her.
"She was in combat, twice." Goldfein said. "But this is really distressing to her."
Steps: Goldfein's first step was to file a complaint with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission. She said the AIDS Law Project's goal is always first to get defendants some education on HIV and to compel them to develop and post training regarding state and federal nondiscrimination and privacy laws. She said the denial of Jones' access to the pool violated state and federal nondiscrimination laws, and the unauthorized disclosure of her HIV status violated federal HIPAA privacy act laws.
But, as time elapsed, she said she had to file the lawsuit at the federal level to protect Jones against the expiring statutes of limitation.
Along with the lawsuit, Goldfein filed an emergency motion to proceed under pseudonym, asking the court to allow Jones to continue to use the false name throughout the remainder of the proceedings to protect her privacy. Magistrate Judge Martin C. Carlson issued an order granting the motion until July 8, by which time any of the defendants named in the suit must file a brief contesting the order.
Seeking: Jones is seeking a judgment against the defendants that would force OSS and all of its facilities to comply with state and federal nondiscrimination laws, to develop and implement a written anti-discrimination policy, to conduct mandatory training for all staff regarding HIV, transmission and precautions, to develop and implement a written confidentiality policy and conduct training. She is also asking for compensatory and actual damages for her humiliation and embarrassment, as well as funds to cover all legal costs.
Goldfein said if agencies that violate state and federal discrimination and privacy laws are force to pay compensation, the organizations might be more inclined to obey the rules in the future. She also hopes the public being made aware of the case will spark some conversation and dispel some of the myths about HIV/AIDS and how the virus is and is not transmitted.
Calls placed to OSS Health attorney Kimberly Colonna were met with a voice mail stating the attorney will be out of the office until June 30. A message left with Charles Artz, the attorney of record for both Drayer Physical Therapy and Burch, was not returned immediately.
As for Jones, she has still not been able to obtain the aquatic therapy treatment.
"She is getting physical therapy treatment through the VA (Veterans Affairs), but they don't offer aquatic therapy," Goldfein said. "So she is getting less than the recommended treatment."