Thursday, July 17, 2008

Parents protest move from nursing home to group home for their children with MR

From The Boston Globe July 17:

Parents of 31 profoundly mentally retarded residents of a skilled nursing home here are protesting the state's plan to move them to small group homes, as required by a recent legal settlement involving more than 600 of the mentally disabled across the state.

The parents say the lack of round-the-clock care at the group homes would not meet the needs of their children, who suffer from serious medical conditions, cannot talk or walk, and have a mental age of less than one year.

"He would die," said Frank Voss, of Andover, about his son Eric, if he were forced to move from the Seven Hills Pediatric Center, a Groton nursing home, to a group home.

Voss said he and his wife fear that Eric, a 27-year-old quadriplegic with cerebral palsy, could unexpectedly suffer a medical setback and not receive adequate care in the new setting. "There's no doubt in our minds that this would be the end of him," Voss said.

The June settlement requires the state to move 640 residents with mental retardation or other mental disabilities. State Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services Jean McGuire said the state is obliged to heed the agreement, but noted the moves are also part of a $20 million initiative by Governor Deval Patrick, called Community First, to provide community homes to more than 30,000 disabled and elderly, some of whom now live in nursing homes.

"It's all about giving people - even people with intellectual impairment - a choice," McGuire said.

The Vosses don't see how a move helps their son. They represent one side in the clash of views over how to care for the disabled. Some believe they should be placed in small group homes with four or five residents. But others - particularly advocates for the profoundly retarded with multiple life-threatening medical conditions - say they need the specialized care of a skilled nursing home.

The legal settlement stems from a 1998 case filed in US District Court in Springfield by the Center for Public Representation, a nonprofit law firm representing people with disabilities, on behalf of Loretta Rolland and others with mental retardation or other mental disabilities in nursing homes.

At the time, there were about 1,600 such residents across the state, according to the settlement. About 1,000 since have been placed in community homes.

The lawsuit hinged on the argument that, according to federal law, the mentally retarded must be provided with the opportunity to exercise personal choice, participate in and contribute to the community, develop and sustain varied and meaningful relationships, and acquire skills that increase self-reliance. That kind of treatment is offered in small group homes but only rarely in nursing homes, the lawsuit says.

The agreement says that by 2012, the state must create 640 new community placement slots for the mentally retarded and disabled and transition that number of nursing home residents into them. The 31 Seven Hills residents are on the list to be transferred.

Some Seven Hills parents said they believe the state is complying with the agreement in a bid to find less costly care.