Conway center to stay open

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Arkansas

A federal judge dismissed today a highly publicized U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit aiming to shut down the Conway Human Development Center in Arkansas.

The lawsuit accused the center, which holds more than 500 people with disabilities, of failing to provide reasonable safety standards and forcing individuals to remain institutionalized by failing to provide rehabilitation services so they can transfer to more integrated settings.  The latter charge would violate the Supreme Court’s 1999 Olmstead decision, which requires states to provide services to prevent the unnecessary institutionalization of people with disabilities.

“The center’s treatment, supports and services substantially depart from generally accepted professional standards of care, thereby exposing individuals residing in the Center to significant risk and, in some cases, to actual harm,” according to the lawsuit, filed in January 2009.

In an 85-page opinion, Judge Leon Holmes of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas rejected the Justice Department’s assertions regarding the center’s services, deferring to the center’s assessments.

“The professionals at Conway Human Development Center exercise professional judgment,” Holmes stated. “Even if the professional judgment of some or all of the plaintiff’s experts were better than the professional judgment of some or all of the professionals at Conway Human Development Center, the evidence does not prove that decisions of the latter represent such a substantial departure from accepted professional judgment, practice, or standards as to demonstrate that professional judgment was not actually exercised.”

He also doubted the Justice Department’s premise that individual rights have been infringed, citing how the individual’s guardians are “overwhelmingly satisfied” with the center’s services.

“The parents and guardians of the residents at Conway Human Development Center make informed judgments regarding placement,” the opinion stated. “No resident of Conway Human Development Center has been denied community placement when a parent or guardian has requested such a placement.”

However, the judge did rule in the favor of the Justice Department’s allegations that the center is violating the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act by failing to provide an education plan that meets federal standards.

The judge did not, however, grant the Justice Department’s preliminary injunction against allowing any more children to enter the facility because the center has submitted a new education plan to the Arkansas Department of Education.

The decision comes two days after Arkansas officially closed one of its six human developmental centers.

The Justice Department also filed another lawsuit in May 2010 against the state of Arkansas for systematically violating the integration mandate, following an investigation into all six centers.