On Monday, the U.S. Department of Justice filed suit against the State of Florida, alleging that children with disabilities are unnecessarily living in Florida’s nursing homes. The lawsuit comes after a DOJ findings letter that was sent to AHCA last September, stating the state was violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by unnecessarily institutionalizing children.
Florida Health Care Association has always supported individuals receiving the most appropriate care in the safest and least restrictive settings, and we have actively supported the Agency for Health Care Administration’s efforts over the past year to continue making improvements to an already strong program for these medically fragile children.
It's important for members of the media and the public to be informed about these special facilities caring for children and young adults, whose medical conditions are too complex to be safely cared for in any other setting. These facilities have dedicated caregivers on staff, including registered nurses, physicians, respiratory therapists, speech therapists, dieticians and social workers, to name a few. In addition, they have a very specific set of requirements and regulations to care for children 21 and under.
The areas where these children live are separate and secure, and designed specifically for children. You’ll find handicap-accessible playgrounds, toys, stuffed animals and a brightly-colored, kid-friendly living environment. Education is an important component, and through collaboration among the families, medical team and school system, each child’s schooling needs are met. You’ll also find more than twice the number of staffing hours per child than that which is required for seniors.
Despite implications by the press about financial incentives, the unfortunate reality is that Medicaid doesn’t come close to covering the cost of care for these fragile children - care that includes 24-hour pulse and oxygen monitoring, specialized wheelchairs, off-campus outings with all the necessary staff so they can experience what it’s like to be a kid. Yet, despite a chronic funding shortfall, these facilities continue to do all that it takes to deliver high-quality, compassionate care to those who need it most.
Efforts should be focused on supporting these facilities as they meet an important need: helping children continue to thrive and if able, return back home; helping families cope with the everyday challenges of caring for a child with a disability; and serving as an important safety net for those children who have no alternative support system for their 24-hour needs.