Miami Herald | EDITORIAL

Cruel and unusual


OUR OPINION: Children don’t belong in nursing homes

If the federal government weren’t looking out for the welfare of Florida’s severely disabled children, who would?

Certainly not Florida’s own administrators charged with protecting them.

No, Gov. Scott’s appointees, abetted by legislative shortsightedness, have worked diligently to rip these challenged children from parents who have cared for them for years and stash them in adult nursing homes far from home, where they languish and pay an exorbitant amount of money to keep them in abominable conditions.

Sure, the nursing-home industry is happy, and has showered Tallahassee politicians with political donations. To keep the children in these inappropriate facilities, the state is willing to pay more than double the cost of what it takes to let the kids be cared for at home or in a community setting.

The U.S. Justice Department sued Florida on Monday, accusing the state of institutionalizing about 200 disabled children in nursing homes, while cutting services that would allow them to receive less-expensive care at home.

The state’s response to the suit? It’s all President Obama’s fault, a power grab. This is the benighted view of Liz Dudek, secretary of the Agency for Health Care Administration.

This despicable practice has been in Justice’s sights for some time, but state administrators did little to end it, forcing the feds’ hand.

During Ms. Dudek’s tenure, severely disabled children whose parents lovingly, willingly took care of them at home, with state-funded home healthcare services to help, have been sent to nursing homes, languishing with little mental stimulation, exercise or education.

And the cost has been dear. Florida residents are paying for this substandard, and sometimes inhumane, care. Last year, the state paid nursing homes about $213 a day to care for an elderly person. But the state reimbursed nursing homes more than $506 a day to care for a child — and the Legislature has raised it to $550.

Yet the state has cut millions of dollars from programs that help parents take care of their challenged children at home. To add to the insult, Florida rejected $40 million in federal funds that would have helped these children remain home or return there to their parents.

Worse still, several children who were thriving under their parents’ care died in nursing-home facilities.

Ms. Dudek has got it horribly wrong. The Justice Department doesn’t want to take over this mess AHCA has created. It wants to eliminate it.

It’s time for administrators to come to their senses and get it right.

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