Justice Department files lawsuit against Florida for unnecessarily segregating children with disabilities
The Justice Department announced today that it has filed a lawsuit against the state of Florida alleging the state is in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in its administration of its service system for children with significant medical needs, resulting in nearly 200 children with disabilities being unnecessarily segregated in nursing facilities when they could be served in their family homes or other community-based settings. The lawsuit, filed in federal district court in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., further alleges that the state’s policies and practices place other children with significant medical needs in the community at serious risk of institutionalization in nursing facilities. The ADA and the Supreme Court’s decision in Olmstead v. L.C. require states to eliminate unnecessary segregation of persons with disabilities. The department’s complaint seeks declaratory and injunctive relief, as well as compensatory damages for affected children.
In September of last year, the department issued an extensive findings letter, notifying the state that it is in violation of the ADA. The letter found that the state’s failure to provide access to necessary community services and supports was leading to children with significant medical needs being unnecessarily institutionalized in, or being placed at serious risk of entering nursing facilities. The letter identified the numerous ways in which state policies and practices have limited the availability of access to medically necessary in-home services for children with significant medical needs. Additionally, the state’s screening and transition planning processes have been plagued with deficiencies. Some children have spent years in a nursing facility before receiving screening required under federal law to determine whether they actually need to be in a nursing facility.
As a result of the state’s actions and inaction, the state has forced some families to face the cruel choice of fearing for their child’s life at home or placing their child in a nursing facility. In one instance, the state cut one child’s in-home health care in half. Her family could not safely provide care themselves to make up for this reduction in services, and they felt they had no choice but to place her in a nursing home. Another child who entered a nursing facility as a young child spent almost six years in a facility before the state completed her federally mandated screening.
“Florida must ensure that children with significant medical needs are not isolated in nursing facilities, away from their families and communities,” said Eve Hill, Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “Children have a right to grow up with their families, among their friends and in their own communities. This is the promise of the ADA’s integration mandate as articulated by the Supreme Court in Olmstead. The violations the department has identified are serious, systemic and ongoing and require comprehensive relief for these children and their families.”
Since late 2012, the department has met with Florida officials on numerous occasions in an attempt to resolve the violations identified in the findings letter cooperatively. While the state has altered some policies that have contributed to the unnecessary institutionalization of children, ongoing violations remain. Nearly two hundred children remain in nursing facilities. Deficient transition planning processes, lengthy waiting lists for community-based services and a lack of sufficient community-based alternatives persist. The department has therefore determined that judicial action is necessary to ensure that the civil rights of Florida’s children are protected.
The ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability by public entities, including state and local governments. The ADA requires public entities to ensure that individuals with disabilities are provided services in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs. The department’s Civil Rights Division enforces the ADA, which authorizes the Attorney General to investigate allegations of discrimination based upon disability and to conduct compliance reviews regarding the programs and services offered by public entities. Visit www.justice.gov/crt to learn more about the ADA and other laws enforced by the Civil Rights Division. For more information on the Civil Rights Division’s Olmstead Enforcement, please visit: www.ada.gov/olmstead/index.htm .