Florida's Children First

Feds: State Illegally Housing Disabled Children In Nursing Homes

By: John Pecatti, Daily Business Review
Published: Tuesday, July 23, 2013


Florida warehouses disabled children in nursing homes where they are often kept from their families and peers, according to a Justice Department civil rights lawsuit filed Monday.

The lawsuit stems from an investigation by the department”s civil rights division, including visits to six nursing homes around the state. Officials identified about 200 children who didn”t need to be there and could receive care at home, the lawsuit stated in alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“Many of the residents” families live in other areas of the state, leaving the children hundreds of miles from family and loved ones,” according to the lawsuit assigned to U.S. District Judge William Dimitrouleas in Fort Lauderdale.

Unnecessary institutionalization denies children the full opportunity to develop and maintain bonds with family and friends; impairs their ability to interact with peers without disabilities; and prevents them from experiencing social and recreational activities that contribute to child development, the lawsuit stated.
“When you are a medically fragile child on a ventilator, all you have is the love and touch of you parents. This is a tragic situation,” said Fort Lauderdale attorney and child advocate Howard M. Talenfeld, partner Colodny Fass Talenfeld Kalinsky & Abate, who is not involved in the lawsuit.


The Florida Agency for Health Care Administration said it was preparing a response at deadline, but Secretary Elizabeth Dudek criticized the Justice Department last September when it launched its investigation based on what she called “unfounded and inaccurate allegations.”

In response to the lawsuit, she defended the state and ramped up the political rhetoric. She said Florida has made many improvements in its “already strong program of caring for medically complex children and helping their families cope with their everyday challenges.”

The lawsuit “shows that Washington is not interested in helping families improve but instead is determined to file disruptive lawsuits with the goal of taking over control and operation of Florida”s Medicaid and disability programs,” Dudek said in a statement.

She noted 31 children have been discharged since Jan. 1 from pediatric nursing facilities to families, adoptive placements, group homes or medical foster care.

The Justice Department put the blame solely on the state and its budget decisions for at-home nursing care. In a letter to the state last September, the department noted Florida reduced or rejected funding for community-based services of nearly $40 million in 2011. They money was designated specifically to support people transitioning from nursing facilities and other institutional settings to the community.

Families with disabled children find in-home nursing is a must — especially if both parents work. The lawsuit claimed the state has often given parents no choice but to institutionalize their disabled children.


“One mother placed her teenage child in a nursing facility after she had requested private duty nursing services at home but was told that the care would decrease over time and eventually stop,” the lawsuit stated.

Another example given in the complaint was a family that admitted their child to a facility after the state reduced in-home health care by 50 percent from four hours a day to two.

The letter sent by the Justice Department to the state last fall also gave the example of a 5-year-old quadriplegic child who had been injured in after a car accident. The mother wanted to bring the child home, but she was told the waiting list for community and home-based services was five to ten years.

Talenfeld said the state employs a vendor to review home-based care for disabled children with the goal of cutting spending.

As a result, the lawyer said there is a lot of “silent suffering” among the state”s most vulnerable population.

“The state has been balancing the budget on the backs of medically fragile children,” he said. “The Justice Department saw the end results of this, and that was that kids were being stuck in nursing homes.”


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