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DOJ to South Dakota: Stop sticking people with disabilities in SNFs

May 4, 2016
by Pamela Tabar, Editor-in-Chief
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The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has concluded that the state of South Dakota is in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for not providing adequate community-based long-term care supports and services for those with disabilities, opting to put them in nursing homes instead.

The DOJ’s findings, reported to South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard, showed that thousands of people with disabilities are living in nursing homes unnecessarily, either because the state has not provided access to community-based care or because the services have not been offered as an option to nursing care.

The ADA and the Supreme Court’s Olmstead decision require that states make beneficiaries aware of the services available to them, and to provide those services in the environment best suited to the person with disabilities. Someone who has lost a leg to diabetes or uses a wheelchair following a car accident doesn’t necessarily need to be in a skilled nursing facility, but many people with disabilities in the state cannot find the services they need any other way, the report argues.

South Dakota has one of the highest nursing home utilization rates in the country, serving about 5,500 Medicaid beneficiaries per year. The state spends more than 80 percent of its long-term care services budget on nursing homes, but realigning the funds to provide  better community-based services could actually save the state money, the report states.

“Regardless of their age, people with disabilities deserve privacy, autonomy and dignity in their everyday lives,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, in a DOJ release.  “Our findings reveal how South Dakota’s current system of long-term care violates federal law and fails to give people with disabilities the choice to live in their own homes and their own communities.  South Dakota officials have expressed their desire to provide meaningful opportunities for people with disabilities to receive home- and community-based care, and we look forward to working with South Dakota to build a more effective, more efficient and more just service system for all.”