MIAMI (AP) – The U.S. Justice Department filed a lawsuit against Florida on Monday, accusing the state of unnecessarily institutionalizing about 200 disabled children in nursing homes and cutting services that would allow them to receive care at home.
Federal investigators visited six nursing homes around the state and identified about 200 children they said didn’t need to be there and could benefit from care at home or elsewhere in the community. The investigators found that, once in the facilities, many children stay for years, some growing up in the nursing homes.
The investigation found cold, hospital-like facilities where children share common areas with elderly patients and rarely leave or go outside. Investigators noted that the children are not exposed to social, educational or recreational activities critical to development. They also said educational opportunities are limited to as little as 45 minutes a day and that many of the children’s families live hundreds of miles away, according to the lawsuit.
Parents say they have no other option because the state has slashed in-homes services, including nursing care for critically ill children on ventilators and feeding tubes.
Investigators said Florida is violating the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and infringing on the children’s civil rights by segregating and isolating them. The average length of stay is three years, federal officials said. Many of the children are physically disabled but mentally cognizant.