A federal investigation of nursing homes caring for children with disabilities led to a lawsuit against the Florida state government, with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) alleging that the state’s social services department is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). United States v. Florida, No. 0:13-cv-61576, complaint (S.D. Fla., Jul. 22, 2013). The DOJ alleges that almost two hundred children, who could be receiving home- or community-based care, are receiving unnecessary treatment in nursing facilities, and that the care is often inadequate to the children’s needs. The case was consolidated in December 2013 with a private putative class action lawsuit against the state, A.R., et al v. Dudek, et al, No. 0:12-cv-60460, which raises similar claims.
Title II of the ADA prohibits state and local governments from discriminating on the basis of disability. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that states must make reasonable efforts to eliminate or prevent unnecessary segregation of disabled individuals in institutions. Olmstead v. L.C., 527 U.S. 581 (1999). The DOJ’s Civil Rights Division (CRD) has been rather aggressive in enforcing the ADA as interpreted in Olmstead in recent years. Since 2009, the DOJ has filed lawsuits against at least eleven states regarding alleged discrimination and neglect of disabled individuals, and it has intervened in numerous private lawsuits.
The Civil Rights Division began investigating Florida’s system for treating disabled children with “medically fragile” conditions in 2011. In a letter to the Florida Attorney General dated September 4, 2012, it reported its findings that the state was in violation of Title II of the ADA. Investigators reportedly visited the six nursing homes that house the majority of Florida’s disabled, institutionalized children. They found that many children who were residing in a nursing home would benefit more if they received care at home or in their own community. Many families stated that they wanted to bring their children home, but that state policies made it difficult or impossible to do so.