Judge closes book on lawsuit involving nursing home residents with intellectual, developmental disabilities

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A U.S. District Court judge has brought a definitive end to a large, long-running class action case involving nursing home residents with developmental and intellectual disabilities.

Lead plaintiff Loretta Rolland, now 71, and four other plaintiffs brought the case against the state of Massachusetts in 1998. They contested the state system of placing people with intellectual or developmental disabilities in nursing homes, saying that these residents were not being given “active treatment” in these facilities, and that many were capable of living in other settings. The class of plaintiffs eventually exceeded 1,800 people as the case stretched on for 15 years.

The plaintiffs sought other care options, such as specialized group homes, for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities. They also wanted nursing homes to provide more active, comprehensive care plans for those who could not move into different settings. Opponents included the families of some of the nursing home residents, who felt their loved one required care in the skilled setting and feared forced removals.

Some families are still opposed to the two settlements in the case, according to local reports. An initial settlement resulted in more than 1,100 residents moving from nursing homes to group homes or other facilities. A second phase of litigation was launched to emphasize transition out of nursing homes rather than “active treatment,” and this has resulted in about 640 additional people moving out of nursing homes.

“This represents a significant expansion of capacity to serve these individuals and others like them in appropriate, community-based settings, and a significant achievement of the Commonwealth's Community First Initiative,” according to a statement from the state's Health and Human Services office.

The plaintiffs filed court papers earlier this year indicating that the state has fulfilled obligations under the settlements, leading to Wednesday's dismissal by U.S District Court Magistrate Judge Kenneth P. Neiman. The state will now administer the program of appropriately placing these individuals without judicial oversight.

Rolland's supporters say the case is a landmark for the rights of the disabled, and will inform policies around the long-term care of people with developmental and intellectual disabilities nationwide.