Adults with disabilities segregated in Colorado nursing homes, federal government says in lawsuit


This story first appeared in Colorado Newsline

The U.S. Department of Justice has sued Colorado, alleging that the state unnecessarily segregates adults with disabilities into nursing homes.

The civil lawsuit claims that Colorado failed to offer sufficient community services to help people with disabilities, including older adults, live in their own homes. This led to people being forced into nursing homes, which the Justice Department says violates the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Supreme Court decision in Olmstead v. L.C.

“Far too often, people with physical disabilities — including older adults — are institutionalized in nursing facilities when they could live in their own homes,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke, who works in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, said in a statement. “The Justice Department is steadfast in its commitment to protect the rights of people with disabilities and ensure the promise of community integration enshrined in the Americans with Disabilities Act.”

The Olmstead ruling “requires public entities to administer services to individuals with disabilities in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs,” the Justice Department said.

The case was filed in the U.S. District Court of Colorado Sept. 29, with the state of Colorado named as the defendant.

Colorado funds public programs like Medicaid for people with disabilities who are low-income so they can access services to help with day-to-day necessities. Some of the services people require include help getting dressed, bathing or eating because of mobility challenges, or managing medications due to chronic illness.

The violation, according to the lawsuit, is that the only way many people can access these services is if they go into a nursing home, because Colorado doesn’t have enough service providers.

“For some, a brief rehabilitative stay turns into a long-term nursing facility placement when the State does not provide the services they need to move back to their homes,” the complaint says. “As a result, some people who want to return home have stayed in nursing facilities for many years.”

The Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing, which oversees the state’s Medicaid program, said in a statement responding to the lawsuit that it is “disappointed” and is proud of the work it does to support Coloradans with disabilities.

“Colorado will not waver in its efforts to make community living accessible and available to all individuals with disabilities,” the statement said. “Giving individuals the opportunity to choose to live in the most integrated setting is at the heart of this commitment. Over the past decade, Colorado has made extraordinary progress in strengthening and enhancing the services that are available to people with disabilities to enable them to thrive in their communities.”

The Justice Department sent Colorado Democratic Gov. Jared Polis a letter in March 2022 outlining its findings of the same civil rights violations alleged in the lawsuit, as well as steps the state could take to remedy the situation.

Julie Reiskin, co-executive director of the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition, said the state already addressed some of the issues brought up in the complaint following the 2022 letter. But her organization, which works to ensure state and local policy meet the needs of Coloradans with disabilities, is glad to see the Justice Department’s continued support. She said some of the allegations in the complaint need to be “remedied immediately,” such as the state’s failure to help people who are institutionalized and financially eligible for community housing obtain access to it.

“We are eager to continue to work with HCPF to make ongoing improvements such as fixing the eligibility issue, increasing options for consumer direction, and continuing to increase wages and take other measures to address the workforce issue in Colorado,” Reiskin said in an email.

On the other hand, Reiskin also cited an AARP Public Policy Institute report from the end of September that identified Colorado as the fifth-best state in the nation for long-term services and support systems and the best state when it comes to innovation in long-term services and supports.

The state’s response to the court was due Oct. 20. No court hearings were scheduled as of original publication.

Colorado Newsline is part of States Newsroom, a national nonprofit news organization.

Since 1998, Stateline has provided daily reporting and analysis on trends in state policy. Stateline is part of States Newsroom, a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit supported by grants and a coalition of donors and readers. Stateline retains editorial independence.

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