One program that is designed to allow parents to care for disabled children at home or in community settings now has a wait list with about 22,000 names. As of last fall, the lawsuit says, more than half of the Floridians have been waiting for care for five years or longer. Additional dollars for the program set aside by lawmakers earlier this year will only help “fewer than five percent” of those waiting.
As money for community care dwindled — and payments to nursing homes dramatically increased — the number of children living in institutions also grew, the lawsuit says. In 2011, the AHCA, acting at the behest of a large Broward nursing home, withdrew its own provision limiting the number of children in each nursing home to 60. Close to 200 children remain in nursing home beds in the state.
“As a result of the state’s actions and inaction, the state has forced some families to face the cruel choice of fearing for their child’s life at home or placing their child in a nursing facility,” the DOJ said in a news release.
The state’s AHCA, in a short news release, criticized the federal government.
“Today’s Obama Administration action shows that Washington is not interested in helping families improve, but is instead is determined to file disruptive lawsuits with the goal of taking over control and operation of Florida’s Medicaid and disability programs,” AHCA Secretary Liz Dudek said.
“Florida has made many improvements in its already strong program of caring for medically complex children and helping their families cope with their everyday challenges.”
Since the controversy began, the state has moved 31 children from nursing homes back into the community, has sent six other fragile children directly from the hospital back to their families, and three more children in the custody of the state were discharged to a medical foster home, where they receive care in a home-like setting, Dudek added.
The Justice Department began criticizing the state’s practice of segregating disabled children last September, when it sent Florida a 22-page letter claiming that it was violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by placing frail children in nursing homes for the elderly. The letter, based on a six-month investigation, said that more than 220 children had ended up in geriatric nursing homes because of state funding cuts for in-home nursing care and other services.
Late last year the Justice Department issued a confidential “settlement proposal,” which the Herald obtained, that demanded Florida stop funneling children to geriatric nursing homes, stop cutting in-home nursing care for disabled children and consult with children’s primary doctors before cutting services for them.
Florida’s practice of housing hundreds of severely disabled children in geriatric nursing homes has faced intense scrutiny after two children died in a Miami Gardens nursing home.