Families Fight Lawsuit Over Community-Based Supports
COLUMBUS, Ohio — More families are trying to stave off class-action status in the court battle between the state and the legal advocacy group Disability Rights Ohio.
Parents and guardians filed nearly two dozen motions Thursday in federal court in Columbus, saying they want a voice in the case. Larry Koebel Sr., whose 46-year-old son has severe developmental disabilities, said he and others are trying to prevent loved ones from being swept up in a broad action that could someday push them out of the residential centers they call home.
“They have lumped thousands of people in this class, but they’ve only named six,” Koebel said. “Let those plaintiffs choose what they want. Our position is, we don’t want to be a part of it.”
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Disability Rights Ohio maintains that the state of Ohio operates a discriminatory disabilities system, one that traps people in institutions because they can’t get the support they need to live and work in their communities. The agency sued the state last year and wants the case to be a class action on behalf of some 27,000 adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities who live in institutional settings or are at risk of moving to one because of service limitations.
That stand is embraced by many and rejected by others. It’s especially hard for some elderly parents, many of whom fought to help establish some of the residential centers that operate today, said 89-year-old Charlotte Forquer.
She doesn’t see her daughter’s private room on a big, wooded residential campus in southwestern Franklin County — where several other people with disabilities live — as institutional.
“It’s beautiful,” said Forquer, of Upper Arlington. Her daughter is 66 and “loves going to all the other apartments to visit people. It’s nice for me to know that when I die, she’ll be well cared-for and in a safe place.”
Forquer and her husband, Mark, joined Koebel and two other families at the federal courthouse to deliver the latest motions. About 40 others also have been filed, all of them seeking to join a previous motion that aims to give class-action opponents a voice in the case.
Michael Kirkman, executive director of Disability Rights Ohio, said the lawsuit doesn’t aim to shut down the centers or deny access to those who choose them. “We continue to think there’s a misunderstanding about the purpose,” he said.
The lawsuit seeks increased access to Medicaid waivers, which can be used to help pay for non-institutional care. Disability Rights Ohio says thousands of Ohioans want community-based services, but face years-long waits for waivers.
Koebel said families who oppose the class action just want to protect the future for their sons, daughters and siblings.
“When you think you have done the best you could do for your child, or your brother or sister or whoever, and someone wants to disrupt that, it’s scary,” the Gahanna resident said. “I think that’s what you’re hearing today.”
© 2017 The Columbus Dispatch
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