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Care of Children in Florida Nursing Homes Prompts Federal Litigation

The State of Florida, displaying a deliberate indifference to suffering, gave parents of disabled children no choice but to warehouse these youths in nursing homes designed for care of elderly residents.

Some have spent their entire childhoods locked away, deprived of meaningful interactions with family and friends, non-disabled acquaintances and social and recreational activities that might of otherwise allowed them to thrive.

Our Fort Lauderdale nursing home neglect attorneys understand these are the allegations made recently in a lawsuit filed against the State of Florida by the U.S. Department of Justice, which also accuses state agencies of making perfunctory attempts to fix the problem. In the end, federal authorities say, state officials have failed some of the most vulnerable citizens and their heartbroken families.

At the heart of the matter is the fact that families that want to care for their medically-frail children in their homes – which research has proven is not only less expensive but more beneficial to the child – are not given the resources to do so. Instead, the state of Florida has slashed available services for these families, while boosting the payments made to nursing homes to provide pediatric care. This has meant that families are often forced by the state to surrender their children to the system — leaving children to live in geriatric institutions.

These are facilities that were not designed for children. They are designed for elderly adults.

According to the DOJ, the state’s actions, specifically those of the Department of Health, Department of Children & Families and the Agency for Health Care Administration, have violated the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act. In part, this legislation prohibits discrimination against any individual with special needs. The federal government alleges the state has done so by failing to properly fund and manage programs intended to keep these children at home with their families.

Last fall, federal authorities warned the state that the current system was discriminatory. The federal government now says that despite this warning, the state has persisted in carrying out actions that are discriminatory. Of the hundreds of children housed in nursing homes across the state, only about 30 have been moved back home following the initial federal inquiry, which was originally spawned by a Miami Herald investigation. That was prompted by the deaths of two children at a Miami Gardens facility.

The justice department says in its lawsuit that the state’s lack of initiative shows that state compliance with ADA isn’t going to be reached by “voluntary means.” In other words, the DOJ was forced to take this action in order to force the state to comply.

The state’s AHCA has called the actions of federal authorities, up to and including this lawsuit, a form of “meddling.” It’s tough to argue, however, that the federal government wouldn’t have an interest in ensuring the well-being of disabled children. The feds are not asking for rainbows and unicorns here. They are demanding that these childrens’ basic human rights be honored.

A few years ago, state lawmakers agreed to cut some $6 million from a program that funds private nursing care for disabled Floridians who wish to reside outside of institutions. Another program that is designed to allow parents to care for their disabled children in their homes or in similar community settings has a wait list of 22,000. More than half of those have been waiting five years or longer. Legislators did set aside some money earlier this year that would help to expand the program, but it was paltry. It will provide relief to less than 5 percent of those on the wait list.

Freeman, Mallard, Sharp & Gonzalez — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights.

Additional Resources:
Feds sue Florida over care of children in nursing homes, July 22, 2013, By Carol Marbin Miller and Katia Savchuk, The Miami Herald

More Blog Entries:
Bed Sores Are Common Sign of Nursing Home Neglect, July 25, 2013, Fort Lauderdale Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer Blog

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