Lawsuit Claims Florida Illegally Warehouses Disabled Kids In Nursing Homes

An emerging lawsuit claims that Florida illegally warehouses disabled children in nursing homes. According to one report, some 250 very ill or disabled kids are in nursing homes to avoid paying to enable them to live with their families or in their communities, according to a lawsuit filed by families involved, said the Sun Sentinel.

Because the children are denied home nursing care and other services, they have been forced into institutions, living there for months, even years. This despite that their physicians have cleared them to return home with their families, said the lawsuit, which was filed in federal court in Fort Lauderdale, said the Sun Sentinel.

Another group of families filed a separate lawsuit alleging that some 3,300 at-risk children who are living at home fear that the dearth of services provided by Florida Medicaid will force them into nursing homes, according to the Sun Sentinel.

The Sun Sentinel explained that the lawsuits argue that Florida’s practices are in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act and a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that mandates states provide services to ensure people are kept in the least restrictive settings possible, including foster care or group homes. The Sun Sentinel noted that officials at the state Agency for Health Care Administration, which runs Medicaid, and the state Department of Health, which oversees many of the children involved, declined to comment.

According to the lawsuit, warehousing these children ends up costing the state more money overall, said Courthouse News. The plaintiffs argue that “The overall costs to institutionalize all of the plaintiffs and plaintiff class members in nursing facilities is more than the overall costs of providing at home care.” Adding that the “defendants have and continue to make cuts in plaintiffs’ and class members’ services which have placed them at risk of unnecessary institutionalization in nursing facilities.”

One of the lawsuits pointed to a child identified as TH, a 16-year-old girl who lives at Kidz Korner, which is a wing in the Plantation Nursing & Rehabilitation Center. After severe shaking as an infant, TH suffered brain damage, is unable to walk or talk, and requires some breathing tube assistance, said the Sun Sentinel. A brief illness forced TH into a nursing home; however, her foster parents have been fighting to bring her home for years—since March 2007—to no avail because the state only provides for eight hours of daily home nursing care.

According to the girl’s attorney, she has been medically stable for years; there is no reason for her not to be returned to her home.

Denise Wronowski, spokeswoman for Broward Children’s Center, a program for the disabled, noted that Florida pays nursing homes approximately $500 daily, which totals about $180,000 yearly for a medically at-risk child, the Sun Sentinel wrote. While this is less than the estimated $250,000 yearly amount for round-the-clock home nursing, it is more than the combination of services many families who care for kids at home use.

States find it simpler to pay for institutional care and institutions don’t mind filling their beds with these children, according to Dr. Cecilia Rokusek, a Nova Southeastern University research director who once ran disabled programs.

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