Judge Deals Blow to Advocates for Old, Disabled

By: Matt Sedensky, Associated Press
By: Matt Sedensky, Associated Press

West Palm Beach, FL (AP) - A federal judge struck a blow Tuesday to advocates for the elderly and disabled, removing class-action status from a lawsuit that had argued Florida illegally forces people into nursing homes when they are capable of living elsewhere.

U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle ruled in favor of one of the institutionalized Medicaid patients who sued the state of Florida in 2008, saying they should be allowed to live in other settings. But by removing the suit's class status, the ruling applies to just one person, Clayton Griffin, instead of the 8,500 plaintiffs estimated by attorneys to be in a similar situation.

"It is a limited victory," said David Bruns, a spokesman for AARP, the nonprofit group for those 50 and over which took up the case up on the behalf of the plaintiffs. Southern Legal Counsel also joined AARP in that action.

Filed just shy of four years ago and argued in court early last year, the lawsuit has dragged on so long that of the original seven plaintiffs, five have died. A sixth, according to the judge's written decision, said he no longer wished to leave a nursing home after relatives moved away.

Because of that, Hinkle vacated the class action he previously had granted, also citing changes to the state Medicaid program have ensured people can avoid nursing homes if they wish.

"Not a single Medicaid beneficiary who is in a nursing home," wishes to be released, and could safely do so, "would not be approved for transition" under the current state system, Hinkle wrote.

But in the very same judgment, Hinkle acknowledges "the state apparently has made errors ... in failing to transition a small number of nursing home residents."

Among those mentioned by name is Marguerite Pace, a Sarasota woman who was deposed in the case and had been among the plaintiffs until she was granted a waiver by the state to receive support services outside a nursing home.

That waiver was granted last spring. She still remains institutionalized, waiting on a seemingly unending amount of bureaucratic hurdles.

Pace has no use of her legs and limited use of her arms. She is still hopeful she will be released by the time her 50th birthday comes on Jan. 14, but she called Tuesday's decision disheartening.

"I'm sad. Again it's saying that people with disabilities have no rights, that we are at the mercy of the state," she said.

Americans who qualify for Medicaid and get sick or disabled enough to require substantial care typically have little problem gaining admission to a nursing home. But obtaining Medicaid-supported services at home, such as visits from an aide, is substantially harder and often involves a long waiting list, even though it may cost the government less.

Advocates for the elderly and disabled had hoped a 1999 Supreme Court case would change that. The Olmstead decision, as it is known, involved two Georgia women, both Medicaid beneficiaries with mental retardation who wanted community-based services, but were refused and were treated in institutions.

The high court ruled unjustified isolation of the disabled in institutions amounted to discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act. It said states must provide community services if patients want them, if they can be accommodated and if it's appropriate. Medicaid is the state-federal partnership that provides health coverage and nursing home care to the poor.

The plaintiffs in the Florida case had sued citing the ADA. The case was put on hold for a year beginning in 2009, when the defendant, the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration, agreed to spend $27 million toward nursing home diversion programs.

When that ultimately failed to satisfy the plaintiffs, the case went to trial.

A spokeswoman for the Agency for Health Care Administration, said Tuesday night she could not immediately comment.


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Comments are posted from viewers like you and do not always reflect the views of this station.
  • by Logan's Run All Over Again on Jan 4, 2012 at 08:00 AM
    Appears this judge is a big fan of the movie. I hope that he gets the same treatment that he wants to inflict on all people over the age of "30"! He sounds like a real jerk.
  • by Roger on Jan 4, 2012 at 06:15 AM
    Just plain that 90% of lawyers are crooks thieves scoundrels, scum. You name it. This was a great country when our leaders/politicians were soldiers, farmers, businessmen, etc. Now almost all politicians are lawyers. No wonder our country is in such decline...scum creates more scum.
    • reply
      by Steve Florida native/resident, non-hoodrat lawyer on Jan 4, 2012 at 01:35 PM in reply to Roger
      Roger, I trust that is your name. For folks whom did not get it, the question is: "Google U.S. Representatives, and U.S. Senators that are lawyers..? Are there any? Is it possible that folks go to school to become lawyers to s*** on folks, because they have a title?" Thanx.
  • by Judges look out for their lawyer friends on Jan 4, 2012 at 03:48 AM
    Judge probably didn't want his/her lawyer buddies to be out of any of their "Wards" money by ruling in favor of the residents. The judicial system is a joke when it comes to protecting elders....too many elder law attorneys sharking the assets.
  • by Elder Law Attorneys Are Stealing from Old Folks on Jan 4, 2012 at 03:28 AM
    Someone should look into how Circuit 2 allows so called Elder Law Attorneys to shark old folks families in court, make everyone look greedy, then bill themselves over $90,0000 in 1 1/2 years of an old couples life savings.....leaving a husband with negative monthly income to live on and forcing them into Medicaid. Right now, my mother in law (ward) is paying more per month to 3 (THREE) Attorneys than she is to the facility to care for her and Judge Geivers has allowed this to go on for too long. Elder Law Attorneys in Circuit 2 help elders right out of their money and nothing else. Turning to the court thinking this would protect my parents turned into a nightmare. Greedy attorneys now file motions just to bill and bill all the money to themselves. Unbelievable!
  • by Mary Location: Tallahassee on Jan 3, 2012 at 08:18 PM
    The headlines of this story is not only biased, its misleading and untrue. This makes it sound like the judge doesn't like old or disabled people -- he must not be an advocate! I would hope WCTV could do better than this...
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