Investigators also said Florida is violating the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and is infringing on the children’s civil rights by segregating and isolating them. The average length of stay is three years,
The federal government threatened a lawsuit in September if the state failed to make changes to the system,
but Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Liz Dudek first denied the allegations, then repeatedly stated the problems had been fixed. In the past, Dudek stressed the agency does not limit medically necessary home health services and that parent ultimately decide where to put their children in a nursing home.
State health officials and Attorney General Pam Bondi did not immediately respond to requests for comment Monday.
Parents have said they have are desperately fighting to get services to keep their children at home.
“(The state) pressures parents to place parents in institutionalized settings and then give them no way to get out,” said attorney Matthew Dietz, who filed a lawsuit two years ago against the state that mirrors the federal lawsuit.
He said the state has not addressed the issue, despite official claims.
The waiting list for services at home or in the community has jumped from 14,629 in 2005 to more than 21,000 in 2012, with more than half waiting longer than five years. Currently, state policy does not give priority on the waiting list to children in nursing homes, federal officials said.
At the same time, the state turned down nearly $40 million in federal funds for a program that transitions people from nursing homes back into the community. The state has also been paying community-based providers less, reducing payments by 15 percent last year because of legislative budget cuts. Yet the state implemented policies that expanded nursing home care by offering facilities a $500 enhanced daily rate for caring for children, which is more than double than what the state pays for adults, according to federal investigators.
EARLIER: The U.S. Justice Department is suing Florida, saying the state is unnecessarily keeping hundreds of disabled children in nursing homes.
According to the lawsuit filed Monday, federal officials visited six nursing homes around the state and identified roughly 200 children who didn’t need to be there and could receive care at home.
Federal officials concluded the state has made it difficult for disabled children to get medical services that would allow them to move home. According to the lawsuit, Florida’s system has led to unnecessary segregation and isolation of children, often for years.
The federal government threatened a lawsuit in September if the state failed to make changes to the system.
State health officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Check back at HeraldTribune.com for more on this developing story.