Federal officials are suing alleging that hundreds of children with disabilities are being unnecessarily segregated in nursing homes in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The U.S. Department of Justice filed suit Monday accusing the state of Florida of relegating nearly 200 children with significant disabilities to nursing homes who could be served at home or in other community-based settings.
Last September, the Justice Department warned Florida officials of ADA violations after an investigation found that state policies and practices limited access to in-home care for kids with significant medical needs leaving many families with little choice but to send their children to nursing homes. What’s more, the probe identified children who spent years at the facilities before receiving federally-mandated screening to assess whether or not the environment was the most appropriate for them.
Though the state made some changes since being notified of the investigation’s findings, federal officials said that after several months of negotiating, violations remain making legal action necessary.
“Children have a right to grow up with their families, among their friends and in their own communities,” said Eve Hill, deputy assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “The violations the department has identified are serious, systemic and ongoing and require comprehensive relief for these children and their families.”
Kids living in nursing homes have limited interaction with individuals without disabilities and are often located hundreds of miles away from their families, according to the federal complaint.
In addition, the suit alleges that the state’s policies and practices put other children with significant medical needs who are currently living in the community at risk of similar institutionalization.
For their part, Florida officials said they have taken steps in the last year to improve an “already strong program” providing services for children with complex medical needs, indicating that more than 1,000 children are now receiving enhanced care services to help them return to or remain in the community.
“Today’s Obama administration action shows that Washington is not interested in helping families improve but instead is determined to file disruptive lawsuits with the goal of taking over control and operation of Florida’s Medicaid and disability programs,” said Elizabeth Dudek, secretary of Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration, in a statement.