Disability Rights Washington lawsuit challenges state’s lack of home and community-based services

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The state of Washington is systematically violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by holding dozens of people with disabilities in “unnecessary and unjustified segregation, or placing them at risk of unnecessary and unjustified segregation,” Disability Rights Washington alleged in a federal class-action lawsuit filed August 2.

“Defendants, and their agencies, the Health Care Authority (HCA) and the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS), do not have an adequate system for ensuring persons with developmental disabilities receive necessary services in the most integrated settings appropriate to their needs,” the lawsuit states. “In addition to the named Plaintiffs, dozens more individuals are entitled to services, but wait for prolonged periods to receive those services because they are unavailable…

“Defendants have no effectively working plan to ensure that Plaintiffs and these putative class members will avoid institutionalization.”

The state of Washington operates four large, Medicaid-funded, state institutions, which currently hold more than 800 people with disabilities.

Once it identifies individuals as capable of living outside these settings, the state is obligated by the ADA and federal Medicaid law to place them in less segregated arrangements, often through state-contracted, Medicaid-funded, for-profit and non-profit supported living agencies.

At this step, individuals are stuck in limbo, often for years despite federal Medicaid law requirements that states act with “reasonable promptness” in delivering these services. One of the plaintiffs, identified as C.F. in court papers, is still waiting for a referral, despite being identified for a transfer in 2013.

At no point in this process are individuals provided notice of their right to a fair hearing, to challenge the state’s compliance with its legal obligations, the lawsuit states.

During the course of its investigation, DRW identified 91 individuals either unnecessarily institutionalized, or at-risk of institutionalization.

“The individuals we’re talking about in this case, they’ve been assessed by the state to be able to live in the community, and they’ve said they want to live in the community,” DRW Attorney Sarah Eaton told the Seattle Times. “The difference living in the community is being able to go to the doctor, you can choose your provider. You can walk around your neighborhood and say hi to your neighbor. You can have a job. You can go swimming at the Y.”

In addition to the ADA and the Medicaid Act, the complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, asserts allegations under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

A King 5 News story about the lawsuit can be seen here.

Disability Rights Washington, the parent organization of Rooted in Rights, is the designated protection and advocacy agency in Washington and a member of the National Disability Rights Network.