Disabled Sue Oregon for Service Cuts

EUGENE, Ore. (CN) — Thousands of disabled Oregonians will be hurt by inexplicable cuts to in-home services, a disability rights group claims in a federal class action.

Five people with disabilities, using pseudonyms, sued the Oregon Department of Human Services and the Office of Development Disabilities Services over the cuts which began last September. Three plaintiffs have autism spectrum disorders, and two have cerebral palsy.

They say the cuts violate their due process rights, and “put some members of the class at serious risk of segregation and isolation, in violation of the integration mandate of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act.”

“The defendants supplied no individualized explanation for those cuts, justifying them only by citing to an opaque needs assessment tool, whose operation is not explained in the notice or anywhere else,” the complaint states.

In-home services provided to the proposed class members are funded with Medicaid money through the Department of Human Services, and every year the state reevaluates their needs using “an internal and undisclosed algorithm,” according to the April 10 complaint.

The most recent changes to needs assessment reduce the hours generated by around 30 percent, which caused major reductions to people who need the in-home services, the plaintiffs say. They say it is impossible for a consumer to understand the formula used.

Four plaintiffs are adults, and one is a 9-year-old boy. The boy, who has autism, has intense emotional outbursts and because of his large size needs an adult larger than his mother to prevent him from injuring himself.

Another plaintiff, a 40-year-old woman with cerebral palsy, says the reduced hours are not enough to meet her needs, and that her parents were not allowed to participate in the process seeking an exception.
“This reduction of in-home care hours compromises her safety in the home, because she will not have adequate resources to ensure that her behavioral challenges are managed,” the complaint states.

Around 8,000 adults and 3,000 children in Oregon have used in-home care services since 2015, and the reductions eliminate much-needed care for them, according to the complaint.

The plaintiffs say the cuts also violate the Medicaid Act because Oregon cannot cut benefits in a way that does not meet people’s medical needs.

“By failing to provide a reason for the benefit cuts, DHS has left countless families, not only puzzled, but completely in the dark,” Tom Stenson, an attorney with Disability Rights Oregon, said in a statement. “Without making clear how these hours were calculated, DHS has essentially created a black box that shields their decisions from public scrutiny and prevents people with disabilities from arguing that the calculation does not accurately reflect their needs.”

The plaintiffs seek class certification, declaratory judgment and an injunction, and damages for violations of due process under the Fourteenth Amendment, for lack of notice and use of a secret algorithm, and violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act, and the Social Security Act.

They are represented by Kathleen Wilde with Disability Rights Oregon, in Portland.

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