Earlier this year, the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division got word that Florida officials have been sending sick and disabled children to adult nursing homes. It found the goings-on so egregious that on Tuesday, it sent a "what the hell is going on here?" letter to Tallahassee.
Hundreds of Florida children are spending their formative years in hospital-like institutions, sometimes growing up in the equivalent of hospital rooms with virtually no education or socialization, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division wrote in a 22-page letter to Attorney General Pam Bondi. Bondi’s office is defending the state against a previously filed lawsuit that claims the institutionalization of children violates federal law.Read the full letter here. It alleges that disabled children often spend years in nursing homes--at least 50 haven't been home in five years.
The letter, written by Assistant U.S. Attorney General Thomas E. Perez, is the federal government’s first attempt to weigh in on the controversy. At the end of his letter, Perez outlined a series of steps the state could take to reduce its reliance on nursing home beds for frail children. If state leaders fail to “correct” the practice, Perez wrote, “the Attorney General may initiate a lawsuit” of his own.
Some youngsters remain in nursing homes for much of their lives: “a number” of kids, the report said, have spent a decade or longer institutionalized, including some children who entered the facilities as infants and toddlers.
According to several advocates for disabled children, state officials have sent children to nursing homes even when they are more than capable of living at home with their parents. Perez accuses the state of cutting millions of dollars from programs that support disabled children and turning down federal money that would allow them to stay at home. The state even went as far as to repeal state rules that restrict the number of children that nursing homes can take in, and increased their per diems in order to encourage them to take children in. According to Perez, this is not only a flagrant violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, but also does serious damage to children.
The letter makes for horrifying reading. Civil Rights Division investigators visited nursing homes in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, Tampa and St. Pete. In one facility, the kids living there never leave their floor except for medical appointments or community outings. At another, the entrance to an outdoor area is in the smoking section for adult residents.
Some of the stories are absolutely gut-wrenching. For example, one mother wants to bring her five-year-old daughter home from a facility where she's spent three years after being rendered a quadriplegic in a car accident. But she can't because state officials told her she may have to wait as long as 10 years to get home-based care. Another family had to fight for years to bring their son home after he nearly drowned. The doctor prescribed home-health care to deal with his breathing problems, but had to sue the state to get it to provide the necessary care.
State officials claim that Justice ambushed them with the letter, and didn't provide them with an opportunity to comment before it was released. But this seems hard to believe, given how far back this appears to date. This, friends, appears to be "compassionate conservatism" at work.