Investigation Finds Abuse, Neglect of Special-Needs Children in Nursing Homes

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.

Media investigations found similar complaints, with parents unable to obtain needed services in the home despite the availability of such services. The father of a twenty year-old, who has required around-the-clock care since suffering cerebral hypoxia from a heart attack at age eighteen, reported that his son received little care or attention in the nursing home where he has lived for over a year. The reporter who visited the nursing home with the father said they found him in his wheelchair in the hallway. Staffers were ignoring his moans, which his father said were his way of signaling distress.

The plaintiffs in the A.R. case filed a second amended complaint on August 23, 2012, in which they assert causes of action for violations of Title II of the ADA, violations of § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and civil rights claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The civil rights statute allows plaintiffs to recover damages for injuries caused by a civil rights violation by public employees or agents. The DOJ’s complaint asserts a single cause of action for Title II violations.

The personal injury attorneys at Lebowitz & Mzhen have dedicated their practice to the pursuit of justice for people in Maryland who have been injured or lost loved ones because of nursing home abuse and neglect, as well as other unlawful or negligent conduct. Contact us today online or at (800) 654-1949 for a free and confidential consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Medicare and Medicaid Regulations Assist in Preventing Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect, Maryland Accident Law Blog, February 7, 2014
$91.5M Nursing Home Neglect Verdict Awarded to Family of Woman for Her Wrongful Death, Maryland Accident Law Blog, August 9, 2011
Staff Was Inattentive on The Night of Patient Murder at Jessup Psychiatric Hospital, Says Maryland Health Investigators, Maryland Accident Law Blog, February 22, 2011

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