The U.S. Justice Department sued the state of Florida on Monday, accusing health officials of violating the Americans with Disabilities act by placing almost 200 handicapped minors in nursing homes usually used for elderly residents, Mother Jones reported.
The lawsuit, (PDF) filed after an investigation that began in 2011, charges that the practice shows the state "acting with deliberate indifference to the suffering of frail and severely disabled children."
Florida is the 12th state sued by the department over alleged mistreatment of physically or mentally disabled residents in the past four years. The Miami Herald reported that while the state has increased patient care payments to $550 per day for children placed in nursing homes, lawmakers also cut $6 million from a program allowing residents to get private health care at their homes.
"Unnecessary institutionalization denies children the full opportunity to develop and maintain bonds with family and friends; impairs their ability to interact with peers without disabilities; and prevents them from experiencing many of the social and recreational activities that contribute to child development," the department said in the suit, which also cites reports of insufficient care found in at least one facility during a surprise inspection in December 2012.
Liz Dudek, head of the state Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA), said in a statement on Monday (PDF) said that 31 children had been taken out of nursing homes and placed in group homes, medical foster care or biological or adoptive families, while state officials worked to continue that work.
"Today's Obama Administration action shows that Washington is not interested in helping families improve but instead is determined to file disruptive lawsuits with the goal of taking over control and operation of Florida's Medicaid and disability programs," Dudek's statement read.
But some parents criticized the state's healthcare system to WFTV-TV, saying it forces them to choose between caring for handicapped children without the benefit of financial assistance, or move them into facilities.
"[My daughter] would not survive," one parent, Karen Wallen, told the station. "She might last between two days and two weeks, that's it."
Watch WFTV's report on the lawsuit, aired Monday, below.