More than 4,500 people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are "trapped" in nursing homes providing inadequate care, according to advocates who filed a class-action lawsuit against Texas on Monday.
Two advocacy groups, the Arc of Texas and the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities, filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in San Antonio along with six individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
The suit focuses on the approximately 4,500 people with disabilities living in nursing homes in Texas and alleges that thousands more are at risk of the same fate.
Most of those people would receive better care in a community-based facility or their own homes, but the state unfairly restricts access to the programs and services, according to the suit.
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"Many are denied the opportunity to live where they choose," said Mike Bright, executive director of the Arc of Texas. "In other words, they have been imprisoned simply for having a disability."
A similar lawsuit in Massachusetts led to the transfer of more than 1,000 people from nursing homes into the community.
Representatives of Gov. Rick Perry's office and the state's Department of Aging and Disability Services, both of which are named in the lawsuit, said they do not comment on pending litigation.
The plaintiffs include Andrea Padron, 26, who suffered a head injury when she was 10 and then received a diagnosis that included mental retardation and quadriplegia, according to the suit.
Before she was placed in a San Antonio nursing home in 2002, Padron could use a wheelchair and participated in activities including aqua therapy.
Her mother, Rosa Hudecek, a member of the U.S. military, was deployed to Iraq from 2004 to 2007, according to the suit.
When she returned home, she found that Padron could no longer sit in her wheelchair and had stopped participating in recreational or social activities, the suit alleges.
"Andrea was making solid progress when she lived at home," Hudecek said in a statement. "We desperately want to get Andrea out of the facility and into a community-based setting, where she can resume the therapy and activities that had helped her so much."
Mental health advocates say there is a long waiting list for spots in community-based programs that might better serve many people with disabilities.
According to a 2010 report by the Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities, Texas ranks 49th among 50 states in providing community-based services to people with developmental disabilities.
Susan Garnett, deputy CEO of Mental Health Mental Retardation of Tarrant County, said the vast majority of people receiving services through MHMR do so at home or in a group home. The few who live in nursing homes tend to be those with serious continuing medical needs, she said.
Garnett said it's far easier to get someone into a nursing home than into a community-based program.
"Nursing facilities are one of those services that have to be provided to anyone that has Medicaid and needs that service," Garnett said.
People in the mental-health community fear that a multibillion-dollar state budget shortfall will prompt lawmakers next year to cut spending in ways that will only exacerbate the problem brought up in the lawsuit.
"You can't cut the type of money that's being talked about from Health and Human Services without cutting people from services," Garnett said.