Florida warehousing disabled children in nursing homes, federal lawsuit alleges

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The federal government has sued the state of Florida, alleging that hundreds of disabled children are unnecessarily living in nursing homes in the state, the U.S. Department of Justice announced Monday.

After a six-month investigation, the DOJ sent a findings letter to Florida last September, saying the state was violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by unnecessarily institutionalizing children. 

The nursing home sector has “actively supported” the state's Agency for Health Care Administration in efforts to improve an “already strong program” for ensuring children receive “appropriate care in the safest and least restrictive settings,” said Florida Health Care Association Executive Director J. Emmett Reed, in a statement to McKnight's.

“Efforts should be focused on supporting these [pediatric nursing] facilities as they meet an important need, helping children continue to thrive and if able, return back home; helping families cope with the everyday challenges of caring for a child with a disability; and serving as an important safety net for those children who have no alternative support system for their 24-hour care needs,” Reed added.

The Department of Justice argues that stage agencies have not implemented aggressive enough reforms and about 200 children remain in nursing homes, while other children are at “significant risk” of being admitted.

“Deficient transition planning processes, lengthy waiting lists for community-based services and a lack of sufficient community-based alternatives persist,” the DOJ stated in a release. “The department has therefore determined that judicial action is necessary to ensure that the civil rights of Florida's children are protected.”

A Senate report released last week called for greater DOJ action on these types of cases. States are failing to follow unnecessary institutionalization rules set forth in the ADA and affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court's Olmstead vs. L.C. decision, the report stated.

The lawsuit should serve as a wake-up call to other states and the whole “nursing home industry,” attorney Matthew Dietz told the Miami Herald. 

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