Advocacy Groups Sue State of Florida for Violating the Americans with Disabilities Act

A class action lawsuit filed today against Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration asserts that the state’s management of its Medicaid long-term care system violates Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. By perpetuating the institutionalization and segregation of older adults and people with disabilities and severely limiting their access to community-based services, the state forces people to unnecessarily enter nursing facilities to get care.

Justice in Aging, a national non-profit legal advocacy organization that fights senior poverty, and Southern Legal Counsel, a Gainesville, Florida-based, statewide nonprofit law firm, filed the suit on behalf of their clients, who are on the state’s waiting list for home-based long-term-care services and are currently at risk of unnecessary and unwanted institutionalization. Disability Rights Florida, private attorney Nancy Wright, and lawyers from the firm of Cozen O’Connor are co-counsel.

“The Americans with Disabilities Act provides that people with disabilities are entitled to receive needed health care in the most integrated setting. Yet in Florida, many older adults and adults with disabilities are stuck on a wait list, unable to get the care they need to stay in their homes, and face having to go into a nursing facility to get that care. This case seeks an expansion of lower-cost home and community-based services and a rebalancing of the long-term care system so people can avoid institutionalization,” said Regan Bailey, litigation director for Justice in Aging.

Florida’s Long-Term Care Medicaid Waiver program provides in-home services and supports for frail older adults and persons with disabilities. Many of these Floridians prefer to remain at home and in their communities and receive help at home with daily activities like eating, bathing, and cooking. But the state prioritizes funding institutional care, and there are currently thousands of people on the wait list for home-based services. As a result, many eligible applicants will die or be forced to move to a nursing home before they get off the waiting list.

“Home and community-based services allow individuals with disabilities to stay in their homes, with or near their families, and remain a part of their community. Such services are integral to maintaining the dignity and humanity of older adults and people with disabilities. It’s no wonder there is such a great demand for these services,” said Amanda Heystek, director of systems reform for Disability Rights Florida.

Lengthy wait times for essential care put lives at risks and cause families to make impossible choices between institutionalizing their loved ones and bankrupting themselves paying out-of-pocket for care.  The vast majority of those on the waiting list are over 60, more than half are over 74, and a quarter are 85 or older. Depending on the level of need and existing support, these individuals could wait up to three and a half years before getting the care at home that they need.  Between July 1, 2016, and March 8, 2018, more than 1,400 people on the wait list had to move to nursing facilities. In this same period, more than 8,600 people died while on the wait list.

“The state can’t say it’s limiting home-based care services because of a lack of funding, because it actually saves the state money for people to receive care at home,” said Southern Legal Counsel Executive Director Jodi Siegel. “Florida’s administration of its Medicaid Long-Term Care Waiver program is therefore not only in violation of the ADA, but also fiscally irresponsible.”

Read the Complaint

About Justice in Aging

Justice in Aging is a national non-profit legal advocacy organization that fights senior poverty through law. Since 1972 we’ve worked for access to affordable health care and economic security for older adults with limited resources, focusing especially on populations that have traditionally lacked legal protection such as women, people of color, LGBT individuals, and people with limited English proficiency. Through targeted advocacy, litigation, and the trainings and resources we provide to local advocates, we ensure access to the social safety net programs that poor seniors depend on, including Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

About Cozen O’Connor

Established in 1970, Cozen O’Connor has more than 700 attorneys who help clients manage risk and make better business decisions. The firm counsels clients on their most sophisticated legal matters in all areas of the law, including litigation, corporate, and regulatory law. Representing a broad array of leading global corporations and middle market companies, Cozen O’Connor services its clients’ needs through 28 offices across two continents.

About Disability Rights Florida

Disability Rights Florida was founded in 1977 as the statewide designated protection and advocacy system for individuals with disabilities in the State of Florida. We provide free legal and advocacy services to people with disabilities through the authority and responsibility of nine federal grants. Our mission is to advance the quality of life, dignity, equality, self-determination, and freedom of choice for people with disabilities.

About Southern Legal Counsel

Southern Legal Counsel is a statewide, nonprofit law firm that works proactively to ensure fairness, social justice and government accountability for Floridians through focused, high-impact initiatives, policy advocacy and civil litigation.

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Vanessa Barrington

About Vanessa Barrington