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Lancaster County coroner’s private medical practice hit with federal lawsuit for denying treatment to HIV-positive man and his family

PHILADELPHIA (Dec. 1, 2014) – A private health-care practice directed by the Lancaster County coroner was sued in federal court today on World AIDS Day by the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania on behalf of a man who was denied treatment because he is HIV-positive.

The denial, communicated in a letter to the man from Stephen G. Diamantoni, M.D., & Associates Family Practice, applies to his wife and his daughter as well. Refusing to treat a person with a disability — in this case, HIV — is illegal under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.  The suit is filed on behalf of “Husband, Wife and Daughter Jones,” who are using pseudonyms because federal rules require that a minor child’s identity be protected in a lawsuit.

Stephen G. Diamantoni, who has been the Lancaster County coroner since 2008, did not personally treat Jones.

In June 2013, Jones and his family moved to Lancaster County, having already contacted the Diamantoni practice to secure health care for himself and his family. The practice has five offices in Lancaster County. He was seen by the practice in June, July and August 2013, but did not have his blood drawn.

On Oct. 4, 2013, Jones’ blood was drawn for the first time during a routine visit to the practice’s Quarryville office.  Four days later, he returned to the office to discuss his results and was astonished to be given a letter from William R. Vollmar, M.D., dismissing him and his family as patients.

The letter claimed that at his last visit, Jones had “left a large amount of blood all over the sink, walls and floor” of the office’s bathroom. The letter continued: “We feel since you are knowledgeable of your diagnosis that this behavior is inappropriate … this dismissal stands for all members of your family as well.”

“This outrageous story is just a false pretext for denying care to a man because of his HIV status,” said Ronda B. Goldfein, Esq., executive director of the AIDS Law Project and co-counsel on the case. “This fabrication depicts our client as a reckless person, but in fact he’s a conscientious family man who sought out health care before moving to the area. It strains credulity that he would then do something like this.”

“The law is clear: You can’t refuse to treat a person simply because he or she has a disability — in this case, HIV,” said Sarah R. Schalman-Bergen, an attorney at Berger & Montague and co-counsel in this case. “Also, these protections extend to anyone else associated with a disabled person, including their family.”

“The AIDS epidemic is now in its fourth decade — and, sadly, this kind of discrimination still happens all too frequently, even in the health-care field,” said Adrian M. Lowe, staff attorney at the AIDS Law Project and co-counsel on the case.

Among other things, the suit seeks that the Diamantoni practice develop an anti-discrimination policy and conduct training for all staff regarding HIV disease, transmission and universal precautions. It seeks awards for compensatory and punitive damages, costs and attorneys’ fees.

The “Jones” family is represented by Ronda B. Goldfein and Adrian M. Lowe of the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania and Sarah R. Schalman-Bergen of Berger & Montague.

The complaint, titled Husband Jones and Wife Jones, on behalf of themselves and as Parents and Natural Guardians on behalf of Daughter Jones v. Stephen G. Diamantoni, M.D. & Associates Family Practice, Dr. Jeffrey T. Trost, and Dr. William R. Vollmar is filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.  A copy of the complaint may be found here.