Justice Department & South Dakota Go At It Over Nursing Homes
The Justice Department is asking South Dakota officials to work harder to help people with manageable disabilities instead of rushing to place them wrongfully in nursing homes where they feel trapped.
It is the Justice Department versus South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard, and few thousands of residents pushed to enter nursing homes are hoping that the Justice Department will win.
A lengthy and thorough investigation by the Justice Department has revealed that several thousands of South Dakota residents with manageable disabilities such as diabetes, blindness or mental illness are forced to live in nursing facilities to receive states provided services.
The Justice Department launched its investigation in 2014 and has since toured many facilities, met with state officials and interviewed nursing facility residents, staff, and administrators.
According to the Justice Department, South Dakota’s unnecessary reliance on nursing and long-term care facilities is not only illegal, but it is also causing patients to feel isolated and dependent. Some of the patients said that they feel imprisoned. A 45-year-old South Dakota man with diabetes told Justice Department investigators:
“I wished i could be at home with my wife and daughter, but I was in a nursing home because I needed help moving around my house on one leg.”
A 73-year-old man in a wheelchair told investigators that he was in a nursing home against his will and added:
“Some of these places are warehouses.”
Vanita Gupta, the Justice Department’s top civil rights lawyer, said the state was using discriminatory practices against patients and requested that officials “protect the civil rights of people with disabilities and mental illnesses, outlined in a Supreme Court decision 17 years ago.” Gupta stated:
“These are real issues that more and more people are going to be confronting with our graying population.”
Debra Miller, director of health policy for the Council of State Governments, explained that while it might be a slow process, states have been trying for years to increase in-home care because it is cheaper than putting someone in a nursing home. Miller shared:
“What we’re seeing now is the feds’ involvement, and the courts. States are all looking to move in this direction. It’s just a question of how fast you can go.”
Daugaard said that his state “had made progress but that, with such a sparse population, it faced problems not shared by more urban areas” and explained:
“Ideally, we want elderly residents and people with disabilities to be able to stay in their communities and receive the services they need without going to a nursing home. That can be a challenge for a state like ours, which is made up of rural communities.”
The Justice Department replied by saying that South Dakota was not trying hard enough to solve the matter, in 2013, it spent $133 million in Medicaid money on nursing homes and $27 million on in-home care.
The Obama administration has opened more than 50 such investigations and reached settlements with eight states. An investigation into Florida’s treatment of children with disabilities led to a lawsuit to get an explanation as to why children were placed in nursing homes. Many expect the Justice Department to also sue South Dakota.