South Dakota accused of bias in confinement of sick and disabled

Flag_of_South_Dakota.svgSevere diabetics, the blind, and the mentally ill all too often get sent to sterile and restrictive group or nursing homes by South Dakota officials who can’t seem to find other care options because they discriminate against thousands of the disabled, the federal government says.

The Justice Department is investigating the state under federal laws affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court. As the New York Times reports, the feds aim to protect the disabled from needless confinement in highly regimented group or nursing homes because:

[A] 1999 Supreme Court decision, Olmstead v. L.C. [held] that, unless a nursing home is medically necessary, people have a right under the Americans With Disabilities Act to receive care without being segregated from society. Advocates for the disabled have compared that ruling to Brown v. Board of Education, which declared racial segregation in schools unconstitutional.

Federal officials say that South Dakota, rather than sending so many of the disabled to be confined to institutions, could help them stay in their homes, hold jobs, and lead productive lives. Providing services, such as in-home care for which the state in 2013 spent $27 million in federal money, could be cheaper than the $133 million in Medicaid that South Dakota spent on nursing homes.

The South Dakota crackdown is part of a broader Obama administration effort that has helped more than 53,000 Americans with disabilities leave or avoid institutions. The Times notes that this “is a small number compared with the 250,000 working-age people who are estimated to be needlessly living in nursing homes, but advocates say the federal campaign has had significant effects.”


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