SEATTLE — A judge in Seattle has been asked to halt cuts to a health care program for disabled adults living in Washington state-sponsored homes.
Andrea Brenneke, an attorney for the Washington Long-Term Care Ombudsman, told U.S. District Judge Richard Jones on Tuesday that up to 900 severely disabled adults may be affected by the cuts that took effect July 1.
The cost-cutting move ordered by the Legislature in April affects a Department of Social and Health Services program that provides daytime nursing and rehabilitation services for disabled people living in state-sponsored residences. Without that care, Brenneke says, many could be forced to move into nursing homes, which could further isolate them and might ultimately cost the state more.
“The risk of this transition is being entirely borne by individuals, many of whom are frail, many of whom are elderly, all of whom are disabled,” Brenneke told the court in seeking a temporary restraining order against the cuts. “What we have is a system that appears to have failed entirely in protecting the constitutional rights of these people. (The state) can’t just cut them off.”
Attorneys for the state argued that steps were taken to notify those who would lose care under the program. Although they acknowledged some former recipients may have temporarily lost care, they said the state is moving quickly to close any gaps in coverage.
Brenneke cited as an example a plaintiff in the case, a 49-year-old man diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
Living at a subsidized home, he received nursing care three times a week to retain some ability to walk. In court documents, Brenneke said such treatment helped slow the progression of his illness while allowing him to remain part of his community by attending church and visiting his girlfriend.
Following the July 1 change, the man’s specialty care ceased entirely, Brenneke said, because the state failed to point him toward comparable community-based services for which he may be eligible. Like the three other plaintiffs, identified in court documents only by their initials, the man would have to move into a nursing home to receive needed, Medicaid-supported care, she said.
Assistant Attorney General Michael Young said DSHS has been working to ensure the needs of those cared for through the program will continue to be met.
“These people aren’t being abandoned at home alone or anything like that,” Young told Jones. “The record does not reflect any individual with need of critical nursing services who didn’t receive those services.”
Young said that in some cases, those needs are being met by the former providers who have donated their time as charity. He said DSHS administrators have reported that the problems described by the plaintiffs were not occurring.
Louise Ryan, the state’s Long-Term Care Ombudsman, disagreed. In a statement submitted to the court, she said she and others had asked the state to delay the program’s cancellation until better protections could be put in place.
The ombudsman’s office is a semi-governmental organization that advocates for the elderly and disabled in the state.
“I realize that DSHS is working hard on an unwanted program change, but the assurance we have received to date that residents are being spoken to, and replacement skilled services put into place, are not consistent with what my ombudsmen have been finding when speaking to the residents,” Ryan said. “To protect the health of these residents, I believe it is critically necessary that the transition be stopped for several months.”
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