Feds sue state | Arkansas Blog

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Feds sue state

Posted By on Thu, May 6, 2010 at 4:51 PM

As expected, the federal government today sued the state over its system of housing the developmentally disabled in institutions rather than community-based settings in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The Justice Department complaint gets immediately to tough language:

Specifically, the State segregates hundreds of individuals with developmental disabilities in institutions that are not the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs, and fails to provide adequate community supports and services to individuals who are discharged from the institutions or who are at risk of institutionalization. Indeed, the State gives individuals with developmental disabilities the draconian choice of receiving services in segregated institutions or receiving no services at all.

The alleged discrimination goes to the heart of the ADA and Congress' intent to eliminate the segregation and isolation of individuals with disabilities. As Congress stated in the Findings and Purposes of the ADA: "Historically, society has tended to isolate and segregate individuals with disabilities, and, despite some improvements, such forms ofdiscrimination against individuals with disabilities continue to be a serious and pervasive social problem."

Arkansas cares for more than 1,100 people in six centers, the largest in Conway. The feds argue that even state experts agree that community alternatives would be better in many cases, but the state doesn't encourage people to seek them, doesn't educate families about options and doesn't conduct sufficient evaluations to find residents who could be integrated into communities. The state also has failed to provide adequate community services to make such transitions, the complaint says. The wait list for community services is 1,400 and it moves very slowly, the complaint said.

The complaint asks that the state be enjoined from placing the disabled in a setting that "unnecessarily isolates and segregates" them from the community and other appropriate relief.

Gov. Mike Beebe responded through Matt DeCample that the lawsuit was expected and that, while the governor favors community-based care, the state believes institutional care should remain an option. The statement (and also one from DHS):

The lawsuit's not a surprise.  The Department of Justice has shown for years that they would prefer to shut down the Human Development Centers and go strictly to a community-care system in Arkansas.  The governor supports community-based care, it's often the best option for the clients, the families and the taxpayers.  However, you're going to have people with very serious conditions that require the intensive, round-the-clock care the HDCs provide.  We've heard it time and again from the families of clients at Conway and other HDCs that the best scenario for their loved ones and the community is institutional care.  Yes, institutions should be the last option.  But they need to remain an option.

The State is undergoing a full review of the HDCs and looking for improvements to be made, including generating ideas to develop more community-based care options.

FROM JULIE MUNSELL AT DHS

We share the value of offering choices to clients among an array of services. We also agree that the ADA is the law of the land and that all states should comply with that law. We do however disagree with the Department of Justice on whether or not  Arkansas is meeting that requirement. 
 
The Governor and the legislature have appropriated millions of dollars to increase community based options and we will continue to defend the right for families to choose the services that best meet the needs of their loved ones.

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