A recent investigation by the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division found that the administration of Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) has been holding hundreds of disabled children in nursing homes for long stretches of time. Scott’s administration, however, is denying the charge.
Investigators sent a letter to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi last Thursday concluding the state is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act after visiting 200 children in six nursing homes. The 22-page letter detailed how sick and disabled children are forced into geriatric nursing homes, often isolated from their families and other children for years at a time:
Hundreds of children are currently segregated in nursing facilities throughout Florida. They are growing up apart from their families in hospital-like settings, among elderly nursing facility residents and other individuals with disabilities. They live segregated lives — having few opportunities to interact with children and young adults without disabilities or to experience many of the social, educational and recreational activities that are critical to child development.
According to the DOJ, the average stay is three years, and as many as 50 kids were held for over five years. The letter also noted how unnecessary this traumatic practice is: “With adequate services and supports, these children could live at home with their families or in other more integrated community settings.” As an example, the investigation highlighted the mother of a 5-year-old child rendered quadriplegic by a car accident, who cannot bring her child home from a state facility because the waiting list for community and home-based services is 5-10 years.
Unfortunately, Governor Scott has rejected millions of federal dollars specifically for children’s health care. As Adam Serwer at Mother Jones points out, this money would have helped finance home and community services that would allow disabled children to stay home with their parents.
Elizabeth Dudek, secretary of Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration, said the DOJ’s findings were full of “unfounded allegations” and has dispatched staffers to talk to these families. The DOJ will likely move forward with a lawsuit now that the AHCA has denied the charges. The state is also facing a class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of 300 institutionalized children.