Vietress Bacon had been living in the Washington Nursing Facility near Skyland Terrace in Southeast Washington for only a few months when she realized she wanted out.
The 46-year-old mother of two has bipolar disorder, is partially paralyzed because of a childhood car accident and uses a motorized wheelchair.
She ended up at the nursing home after she was no longer able to live with her mother. Once at the facility, she discovered that she needed permission from her mother to leave the nursing facility. She was not able to see her son, a musician and rapper, perform. And she missed mundane freedoms such as being able to eat a hamburger and french fries in the middle of the night.
"It's like you're stripped of all your adulthood," Bacon said.
Eleven years after the Supreme Court ruled that state and local governments must provide services to the disabled in the least restrictive settings possible, more than 500 disabled D.C. residents are confined to nursing homes against their wishes because the city has not provided services that would allow them to live independently, according to a lawsuit that disability rights advocates plan to file in federal court.
The lawsuit alleges that the District has failed to provide in-home help with bathing, dressing, transferring people in and out of wheelchairs, and other activities - although such services cost much less than the $60,000 annual price tag of nursing home care, and most of the services are funded under Medicaid. One program to help seniors and the disabled stay in the community has 4,000 slots. As of last week, 1,000 slots were open. Failing to provide such services is a violation of the American With Disabilities Act, the lawsuit argues.
"The whole point of the ADA is to end unnecessary segregation. And that's what nursing homes are," said Marjorie Rifkin, a lawyer with University Legal Services. That group, Arent Fox and AARP Foundation Litigation filed the class-action lawsuit on behalf of disabled residents of D.C. nursing homes. "The District is long overdue in taking steps to transition people into the community."
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Advocates Set to Sue DC on Behalf of Disabled Confined to Nursing Homes