Friday’s two-page letter is in reply to a letter earlier this week from Thomas Perez, who heads the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. In it, Perez offered to send a team of lawyers to Florida so that federal civil rights leaders and the state “can begin working collaboratively to address the matters identified” in the federal report.
“Time is of the essence,” Perez wrote in his letter Tuesday. “Children in Florida are unnecessarily living in nursing facilities. Other children are at serious risk of the same fate. Families are being separated, and parents are being forced to confront the cruel choice of struggling daily to find a way to care for their child at home without necessary supports or placing their child in a nursing facility.”
The exchange of letters suggests the two governments remain far apart over the issue.
In his letter, Perez asked the state to “reconsider [its] unwillingness to cooperate” with the civil rights investigation: “Other states where we have identified similar concerns have cooperated with our investigations and, where we found violations, worked with us towards a mutually beneficial resolution.” Perez cited administrations in Virginia, North Carolina, Delaware and Georgia that worked toward moving children and adults out of institutions and into community settings.
For their part, the Florida agency heads accused the Justice Department of “posturing” and of refusing to cooperate with the state’s probe. The state complained that the Justice Department had yet to respond to a request from Tallahassee for the names of all Florida children whose plights were recounted in the federal report. As the Justice Department has insisted that the clock is ticking, “it is therefore unclear why you would wish to wait a single day to provide us with their identities,” the state wrote.
In their letter, state administrators offered to break the impasse by providing the Justice Department with a host of records filed in a civil lawsuit that makes identical claims as the federal probe. But Matthew Dietz, a Miami civil rights attorney whose lawsuit sparked the federal investigation, said the state has filed only legal pleadings, and no records pertaining to individual children who face medical complexities. Such pleadings, he added, already are public record.
Dietz said state health administrators continue to view the children in nursing homes as isolated cases, and not a system-wide problem.
“The state is picking a fight here, and they are turning this into a political issue, which is wrong,” he said.