Lawsuit Filed Against the State of North Carolina and the NC Department of Health and Human Services for Their Institutionalization and Segregation of People with Disabilities

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Tags: Press Release

Raleigh, NC—According to a lawsuit filed today, the State of North Carolina and the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) fail North Carolina citizens with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities (I/DD) by forcing thousands of people with I/DD to remain in institutions or segregated from their families and communities because of a fractured and inefficient system of care. The case was filed on behalf of five plaintiffs with I/DD who are subject to improper segregation or are at risk of segregation. Disability Rights NC and Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP, a national law firm, represent the plaintiffs. Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP participates in this case as part of its High Impact Litigation Project with the Barbara McDowell Foundation, named for the late Barbara McDowell, a well-known appellate litigator and wife of former Drinker Biddle partner, Jerry Hartman.

“Under North Carolina law, DHHS must provide services to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in the most integrated setting appropriate for their needs,” explained Vicki Smith, executive director of Disability Rights NC. North Carolina’s system of care, which favors institutionalization over community-based services, spends about $150,000 on average per year to keep a person in a facility, while the expense of providing services in a community-based setting is less than $60,000 per year on average. North Carolina ranks 48th in the overall effect of state policies and practices on promoting independence for people with I/DD, according to a 2016 national report published by United Cerebral Palsy.

The lawsuit identifies significant problems with North Carolina’s system of services that rob people with I/DD of their right to live and participate in their communities by:

  • Relying on institutional placements by failing to provide people with I/DD with the services they need to live in their communities.
  • Inadequately planning to transition individuals with I/DD from institutional to community settings by failing to identify those who are ready for more independent living.
  • Identifying an insufficient number of providers to serve the needs of individuals with I/DD in the community.
  • Failing to provide for reliable long-term services and supports stemming from frequent changes and reductions in services, causing instability and making it harder for people with I/DD to remain in their communities.
  • Maintaining a financing system that provides financial incentives to contractors who prioritize lowering costs over providing necessary services.

Smith said:

“The lack of community-based services for people with I/DD is a long-standing problem in North Carolina, and the State’s efforts to address it have been insufficient. There are thousands of people on waiting lists for community-based services, and the number keeps growing. They languish on those waiting lists for years—in some cases, more than a decade. Without services, people with I/DD are vulnerable to dependence and institutionalization.”

The lawsuit asserts that the individual experiences of the named plaintiffs demonstrate that DHHS has failed people with I/DD who face continual challenges to maintaining stable engagement in their communities.

The lawsuit aims to change the practices that result in thousands of North Carolinians being denied their right to live in a non-segregated community setting due to the State of North Carolina and DHHS’s failure to meet its required statutory and constitutional obligations to people with I/DD.

Click here to read the Complaint filed in Wake County Superior Court today.