Thousands of Texans with severe mental and physical disabilities, many of them young adults, are confined in nursing homes with no access to rehabilitative care, according to a lawsuit being filed in U.S. district court today.
The class-action suit, filed by disability rights advocates and six institutionalized plaintiffs between the ages of 26 and 46, alleges that Gov. Rick Perry and state social services officials have violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by failing to provide appropriate treatment to some 4,500 people living in nursing homes.
“Nobody’s standing up for these folks in nursing homes,” says Clay Boatright, president of The Arc of Texas, which is one of the plaintiffs. “We need to make sure their rights are protected, and that they’re getting the supports and services they need.”
Officials with the Department of Aging and Disability Services (DADS) and the governor’s office said they could not discuss pending litigation.
“The governor expects DADS to take every step necessary to ensure the most vulnerable Texans receive the proper care and services they need,” said Perry spokeswoman Lucy Nashed.
Garth Corbett, a senior attorney with the watchdog group Advocacy Inc. and the lead attorney on the case, says many of these individuals were receiving care for their disabilities at home or in the community but were mistakenly sent to nursing homes after being hospitalized for illness. Once there, he says, they are effectively trapped since many do not have the capacity to argue for their own transfer or do not have anyone to advocate for their needs. The plaintiffs, which also include the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities, say that local MRAs, or mental retardation authorities, should be better involved to determine an appropriate placement for someone leaving a hospital. “These people have no connection to the population they’re housed with,” Corbett says. “And they never get out.”
Advocates are hopeful they can reach a quick settlement. Corbett says a similar lawsuit filed in Massachusetts resulted in 90 percent of people with disabilities living in nursing homes being placed in community-based care. Those who remained in nursing homes were given an array of rehabilitative services.
Without appropriate care or rehabilitation services, Corbett says, people with disabilities who used to hold jobs lose the ability to walk or talk. Without stimulation, their depression or anger gets diagnosed as a behavioral disorder — and they're often drugged into submission.
“They’re effectively lost,” he says.