A federal class-action lawsuit is highlighting a challenge felt nationwide: the housing of disabled people in nursing homes without proper resources or a plan to transition them to more appropriate settings.

The Massachusetts-based lawsuit accuses the state of leaving thousands of people with disabilities “to languish and often deteriorate” in nursing facilities. Many of these individuals could live on their own but cannot find affordable housing, according to reporting from GBH News. The suit calls for Massachusetts to create new programs to transition people with disabilities out of nursing homes and to fund adequately existing programs.

“It’s considered a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act to unnecessarily keep people with disabilities warehoused in institutional settings when people could safely live in a more integrated setting in the community,” Deborah Filler, a lawyer with Greater Boston Legal Services, one of the groups representing the plaintiffs, told the news station.

The lawsuit comes while nursing homes across the country are battling major headwinds in recruiting and retaining workers, particularly skilled nurses and aides. The Massachusetts Senior Care Association said that 22% of positions statewide remain open.

In April 2020, the state signed contracts with three healthcare staffing agencies to deploy registered nurses, certified nursing assistants and others to nursing homes and other facilities. The contracts have been extended through at least March, reported Boston 25 News. 

Ari Ne’eman, a health policy PhD candidate and disability rights advocate, said this problem is not limited to Massachusetts. 

“Many people in nursing homes are there because of a lack of availability of community services and affordable accessible housing,” Ne’eman told McKnights Long-Term Care News. “Nursing homes serve as a modern iteration of the poorhouse, functioning as a provider of last resort due to states’ failure to invest adequately in community-based support.”

Ne’eman wants to see Medicaid programs expand to provide access to home- and community-based services and for public housing agencies to priorities vouchers for disabled people currently stuck in nursing homes and “at risk of institutionalization.”

The lawsuit was filed in October. Massachusetts Attorney General Andrea Campbell, who was sworn in last week, has not said how she plans to approach the case.