AARP Foundation Litigation (AFL) attorneys, in conjunction with University Legal Services and the private law firm of Arent Fox LLP, brought a civil rights class action against the District of Columbia on behalf of residents of Washington, D.C., nursing homes who want to live in their own homes. The federal court rejected the District’s argument that it complies with Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which requires states and local governments to provide services to people with disabilities in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) gives individuals a right to receive long-term supportive services in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs and requires states to reform policies and practices that cause unnecessary segregation or isolation in nursing homes and other institutions. In 1999, the U.S. Supreme Court found it a violation of the ADA to unnecessarily segregate a person with a disability in an institutional setting (Olmstead v. L.C. ex rel. Zimring).
But the court’s decision was not being honored by many state and local governments. AFL attorneys have participated in lawsuits around the country that challenge states to provide home- and community-based alternatives to institutionalization.
In December 2010, AFL attorneys and co-counsel filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of residents of Washington, D.C., nursing homes. The lawsuit alleges that as many as 3,000 city residents with disabilities are institutionalized in nursing homes despite the ability to live independently if provided information about and access to home- and community-based services. The lawsuit seeks to order the city to provide these services, inform residents of their rights and choices, and assist them in transitioning from nursing facilities into the community.
Judge Huvelle ruled that the undisputed facts undermine the District’s claims that it complies with the ADA & Supreme Court’s Olmstead decision. The District has no measurable commitment to deinstitutionalization of people with disabilities from nursing facilities. The court rejected the District’s claims based on the following, among other undisputed facts:
• The mere existence of some community-based programs, without outreach, information, and transitional assistance, does not constitute an Olmstead Integration Plan.
• The District’s transition of only a handful of people from nursing facilities under the federally funded Money Follows the Person (MFP) Program (now in its fifth year) does not reflect commitment to integration.
• The steady occupancy rate of nursing facilities at 90 percent since 2000 shows the District’s lack of effort to comply with the ADA’s integration mandate.
• The failure to take steps to identify all D.C. residents in nursing facilities who want to move back to the community or to assist the undisputed 526 to 580 individuals who already expressed their preference to move back to the community reflects the District’s Olmstead violations.
What’s at Stake
The lawsuit alleges that between 500 and 2,900 D.C. residents with disabilities are unnecessarily institutionalized, not only depriving them of their civil rights, but also costing taxpayers more than it would cost if the city maximized its resources to serve people in the community rather than in institutions.
The case, now referred to as Thorpe v. District of Columbia, is pending in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Class certification has been granted.