COLUMBUS, Ohio — Families fighting to preserve the rights of Ohioans with developmental disabilities to live in residential care centers equipped to meet their needs have filed a lawsuit against the state and other groups in federal court in Columbus.

The dozen families named in the case say the push toward policies that promote home- and community-based services could force their loved ones into apartments, group homes and other settings not suitable for people with complex disabilities and medical conditions.

“We’re trying to maintain the continuum of care,” said Upper Arlington resident Caroline Lahrmann, one of the plaintiffs. “People want to have choices. We are afraid that there aren’t going to be places left that can appropriately serve our loved ones.”

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Lahrmann, mother of teenage twins with profound disabilities, said the action filed Sept. 14 is another response to a still-pending lawsuit brought two years ago against the state by the legal advocacy group Disability Rights Ohio. In that suit, Disability Rights Ohio accuses the state of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by leaving thousands of people in so-called institutional settings because they can’t get the services they need to live and work in their communities.

Some families have been pushing back against the case ever since, saying that Disability Rights Ohio is not representing their interests. They also say state and county boards of developmental disabilities are failing to inform people that the residential centers — known as intermediate care facilities (ICFs) — are an option.

“We take no joy in filing these claims,” Lahrmann said. “We did not start this suit — DRO did — but we can’t sit back and let our loved ones be torn from their communities of care. The state, county boards and DRO are killing ICFs as well as other supported living options.”

The suit names the state, Ohio Association of County Boards of Developmental Disabilities and Disability Rights Ohio as defendants.

State officials said they’re reviewing the suit. “The health, safety and welfare of Ohioans with developmental disabilities is the department’s top priority,” spokeswoman Laura Tucker said. “We will continue to meet the unique needs of those we serve with all available resources.”

Michael Kirkman, executive director of Disability Rights Ohio, said the claims filed by Lahrmann and others against his organization are unfounded and he will ask the court to dismiss them.

“They also have the potential to distract the court from the real issue at hand: Ohioans with disabilities who wait months and sometimes years for community-based services and supports they choose,” he said.

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