Florida Illegally Houses 200 Children in Nursing Homes, Government Alleges By Tod Aronovitz | 08/01/13 | 0 Comment

Alleging that Florida is in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for unnecessarily segregating almost 200 children with significant medical needs into nursing homes, the Justice Department has filed a lawsuit against the state seeking declaratory and injunctive relief as well as compensatory damages for the affected children. The ADA and the Supreme Court’s decision in Olmstead v. L.C. require states to eliminate unnecessary segregation of persons with disabilities.

The lawsuit filed July 29 in federal district court in Fort Lauderdale also charges that the state’s policies and practices place other children with significant medical needs at serious risk of institutionalization in nursing facilities.

“Florida must ensure that children with significant medical needs are not isolated in nursing facilities, away from their families and communities,” said Eve Hill, Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “Children have a right to grow up with their families, among their friends and in their own communities. This is the promise of the ADA’s integration mandate as articulated by the Supreme Court in Olmstead. The violations the department has identified are serious, systemic and ongoing and require comprehensive relief for these children and their families,” she said.

The lawsuit stems from an investigation that found the state of Florida fails to provide access to necessary community services and supports, such as in-home services, to children with significant medical needs. The DOJ sent an extensive letter designating ways in which state policies and practices have limited the availability of these services, and identified deficiencies in the screening and transition planning processes that have lengthened the amount of time it takes to determine whether a child even needs nursing facility care.

The department has also worked with Florida officials to resolve the violations cooperatively; however, it decided that judicial action is necessary to ensure that the civil rights of Florida’s children are protected. While the state has updated some policies contributing to the unnecessary institutionalization of children, there are still ongoing violations, and the nearly 200 children found in nursing care facilities have not moved.

Deficient transition planning processes, lengthy waiting lists for community-based services and a lack of sufficient community-based alternatives continue to plague the state. In some cases, the department has found, families are forced to make the cruel choice of fearing for their child’s life at home or sending their child away.

Elizabeth Dudek, secretary of Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration, and one of several parties named in the suit, issued a statement defending the state’s performance, saying “Florida has made many improvements in its already strong program of caring for medically complex children and helping their families cope with their everyday challenges.”

The ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability by public entities, including state and local governments and requires public entities to ensure that individuals with disabilities are provided services in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs. The department’s Civil Rights Division enforces the ADA, which authorizes the Attorney General to investigate allegations of discrimination based upon disability and to conduct compliance reviews regarding the programs and services offered by public entities. Visit www.justice.gov/crt to learn more about the ADA and other laws enforced by the Civil Rights Division. For more information on the Civil Rights Division’s Olmstead Enforcement, please visit: www.ada.gov/olmstead/index.htm.

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