Settlement reached in New York nursing homes case

New York state will move hundreds of people with mental disabilities from nursing homes to more integrated settings under a settlement reached last week in federal court, just weeks before a five-year-old class action lawsuit was set to go to trial.

Photograph of a wheelchair casting a shadow on nursing home floor
From nursing homes to communities

“Trials take a long time, appeals take a long time, and these are people’s lives we’re talking about,” said Disability Advocates attorney Timothy Clune in a Reuters article. “Everyone was on the same page: we all wanted to get people out of nursing homes and into appropriate community placements as soon as possible.”

In 2006, Disability Advocates, along with the New York Lawyers for the Public Interest and Mental Hygiene Legal Services, Second Judicial Department, filed a lawsuit on behalf of 11 people with mental disabilities in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York. The lawsuit charged the state with unlawfully transferring hundreds, if not thousands, of people with mental disabilities from state psychiatric hospitals to nursing homes, even though their medical needs would allow them to live in independent apartments or other housing options.

The lawsuit also described many of these nursing homes as failing to provide rehabilitation services and isolating their patients from the outside in world, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act’s integration mandate outlawing unnecessary institutionalization. Many of these individuals were transferred to nursing homes in New Jersey, despite being beneficiaries of New York’s Medicaid program.

The settlement creates a three-year timetable for the state to review the conditions for hundreds of individuals, create 200 new supported housing units and hire independent contractors to oversee the process, according to an article in the New York Times, which exposed many of the system’s shortcomings leading up to the lawsuit.

Disability Advocates Inc. is part of the federally funded protection and advocacy system and a member of the National Disability Rights Network.