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DOJ: Colorado unnecessarily institutionalizes adults with physical disabilities in nursing homes

The federal government concluded the state unnecessarily diverts a majority of adults with physical disabilities into nursing homes, segregating them from the community at large in violation of their rights under the ADA.

DENVER (CN) — Colorado is violating the rights of about 15,000 people with physical disabilities who were given care in resident nursing facilities instead of in the community, according to a Thursday letter from the Department of Justice.

The letter addressed to Colorado Governor Jared Polis comes after a years-long investigation by the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. Beginning in November 2018, investigators reviewed state documents, and interviewed patients as well as their families and staff in nursing facilities, county social services, community service providers and advocates.

The federal government concluded the state unnecessarily diverts a majority of adults with physical disabilities into nursing homes, segregating them from the community at large in violation of their rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

"We have determined that Colorado is violating the ADA by administering its long-term care system in a way that unnecessarily segregates individuals with physical disabilities in nursing facilities and places others with physical disabilities at serious risk of unnecessary institutionalization,” wrote Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke in a 15-page letter.

In 1999, the Supreme Court found the Americans with Disabilities Act requires people with disabilities be provided the most integrated environment possible.

The agency stressed the importance of protecting the rights of individuals with disabilities during the Covid-19 pandemic, which resulted in the death of 150,000 nursing home residents nationwide, including 1,900 Coloradans.

"The Covid-19 crisis has highlighted that Olmstead compliance is not only a matter of ensuring the rights of individuals with disabilities to live independently and participate fully in society.  It can also be a matter of life and death," Clarke argued in the letter.

In 2019, Colorado spent $1.25 billion providing nursing home care to 15,000 Coloradans with physical disabilities. The cost of providing community services to 29,000 Coloradans receiving care under an elderly blind and disabled waiver topped out at $457 million.

The state also treats most people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in community-based settings, rather than in nursing homes.

According to surveys conducted by the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Finances, 92% of residents who moved out of nursing homes reported liking living in the community, compared to 35% of residents still living in nursing homes.

While a majority of nursing home resident who received transition counseling opted to move out, only 269 Coloradans with physical disabilities transitioned out of nursing homes between 2013 and 2019.

Bureaucratic processes and lack of transition education create delays for people looking to move out of nursing home, limiting housing options and chipping away at individuals' confidence and skills needed to live independently.

The letter recommended providing people with disabilities education on alternatives to nursing home residency and transition services, as well as increasing availability of community-based services and housing opportunities for people with physical disabilities.

“Older Coloradans and Coloradans with physical disabilities increasingly expect to remain at home as their support needs increase,” said U.S. Attorney Cole Finegan for the District of Colorado in a statement. “I’m hopeful this situation can be remedied so that individuals with physical disabilities are no longer isolated.”

The Department of Justice invited Colorado to participate in compliance negotiations prior to taking direct legal action.

A spokesperson for Gov. Polis' office said, "the governor welcomes all help including from the judicial system in successfully transitioning more seniors to loving, in home care. Gov. Polis is hopeful that this development will accelerate his efforts to make Colorado the best state for seniors and people with disabilities."

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Categories / Civil Rights, Government, Health

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