Looking for a way out of Texas nursing homes
Health | Advocates say disabled people are getting stuck in institutions
by Gaye Clark
Posted 7/06/16, 06:26 pm
A group of people with disabilities and their advocates are suing Texas social services officials for allegedly “forcing” some 4,500 Texans to live in nursing homes. The group says thousands of people with disabilities aren’t properly screened by the state and therefore aren’t offered more appropriate living options.
Citing the Americans with Disabilities Act, the class-action suit maintains individuals in Texas with disabilities are often admitted to nursing facilities “without being appropriately assessed for whether they can be served in the community.” A similar lawsuit in Massachusetts led to the transfer of more than 1,000 people from nursing homes into community-based homes.
“Many are denied the opportunity to live where they choose,” Mike Bright, executive director of The Arc of Texas, told the Star-Telegram. “In other words, they have been imprisoned simply for having a disability.”
One of the patients named in the suit, Andrea Padron, suffered a severe head injury in a car accident at 10 years old, leaving her quadriplegic with developmental disabilities. While Padron lived at home, she used a wheelchair, attended public school, and received habilitative services. Out of alternative options and facing deployment to Iraq, Padron’s mother, Rosa Hudeck, put Padron in a nursing home. Upon Hudeck’s return, she found her daughter completely bedridden. Padron developed a spine deformity and died at 29. According to the complaint, only 1 percent of the individuals with developmental disabilities who are confined in Texas nursing facilities obtain specialized services they need. Court documents showed Padron, along with the other plaintiffs, never received a mandatory federal screening, which insures individuals are not inappropriately placed in nursing homes for long-term care and secures Medicaid funding for alternative housing.
Cecilia Cavuto, spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services, said Texas care providers do evaluations for each person entering a nursing home to determine what specialized services might be needed and whether a resident wants to transition into a community-based setting.
But advocates say in order to access community-based services, the Texas patients must first place their names on the Home and Community-Based Services (HCS) waiting list that has over 50,000 names for approximately 22,800 slots, all of which are currently filled. The average wait time is nine years. Virginia Phillips put her son Brent on a state waiting list when he was 5. Now 23, he’s close to the 300th spot—which is a good number, she told The Dallas Morning News.
Texas currently operates more nursing home institutions for people with disabilities than any other state: 13 centers for 3,362 people. In 2012, Texas spent $166,643 per person to keep patients with disabilities in a state institution, compared with $39,947 per person it pays for people with disabilities to live in a community-based setting, or group home. Yet funding for community-based programs went down 5.8 percent in two years, according to the Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities.
Nationwide, more than 1.4 million Americans live in nursing homes. Federal data suggest about 155,000 nursing home residents might not need round-the-clock assistance. Another 217,000 working-age residents could be better served at home or in a community-based facility.
While state agencies and advocacy groups bicker over funding and state obligations, a group of concerned North Texas parents, frustrated by lengthy waiting lists, created new housing options for their children. Community for Permanent Supported Housing raises awareness for the need for housing for people with disabilities and solicits funds and co-ops to build additional homes. In the past year, the group has secured affordable housing for more than 50 disabled adults.
“It’s time for [people with disabilities] to be living their lives like your kids live their lives. It’s not appropriate to be isolating this population because they look or act differently,” said Robin LeoGrande, Community for Permanent Supported Housing president. “They are here to stay, and no amount of blindfolds is going to change that they are part of our society.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Gaye is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute mid-career course.