Trial starts accusing state of disabled-service violations
Published 8:10 pm CDT, Tuesday, October 16, 2018
A non-jury trial has begun in a San Antonio federal court to resolve an eight-year-old lawsuit alleging the state denied access to better living conditions to thousands of developmentally disabled Texans in nursing homes.
Chief U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia began hearing testimony Monday. The bench trial is expected to last three to four weeks.
The federal lawsuit, filed in 2010 in San Antonio, alleges the state isn't providing some mentally and physically disabled Texans the opportunity to move into community-based settings, which advocates say are less restrictive and more rehabilitative than nursing homes.
The Coalition of Texans with Disabilities and the Arc of Texas filed the original lawsuit on behalf of a number of plaintiffs, which included three from San Antonio. Since then, the judge has certified it as a class action suit.
Named as a defendant is Cecile Young, acting director of Texas Health and Human Services.
HHS spokeswoman Carrie Williams said, “We will comment when appropriate and if warranted at the conclusion of the case.”
The suit accuses the state of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act, and not following the federal Nursing Homes Reform Amendments to the Medicaid Act.
The amendments to the Medicaid Act require states to screen residents of nursing homes for developmental disabilities to see if their needs can be served within the community or less restrictive methods than at a nursing home. It also requires states to provide “specialized services and intensive treatment” so developmentally disabled can live as independently as possible and to prevent regression or loss of abilities.
"Each (of the lead plaintiffs) is able and would prefer to reside in a more integrated, community-based placement," the latest version of the lawsuit, filed earlier this year, states. "Nevertheless, the individual plaintiffs and thousands of similarly situated individuals in Texas are unnecessarily institutionalized and segregated in nursing facilities because of the defendants’ decision to exclude them from any meaningful access to Texas’s system of community-based services and supports which they need to be able to reside in the community."
Over the years, the suit has survived attempts by the state to have it dismissed, records show. The Justice Department has even joined in, backing the plaintiffs. In the meantime, one of the original defendants, the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services, or DADS, has been dissolved and its functions were moved into Health and Human Services. DADS was dismissed as a defendant shortly before trial.
“The plaintiffs have prevailed at every legal step so far," said Dennis Borel, executive director of the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities. "To me, it's a good question why they are continuing to fight this.”
Borel said his group believes there are about 3,500 people with developmental disabilities in nursing homes in Texas.
Guillermo Contreras covers federal court and immigration news in the San Antonio and Bexar County area. Read him on our free site, mySA.com, and on our subscriber site, ExpressNews.com. | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter: @gmaninfedland