Agreement could resolve litigation over services for disabled people in North Carolina

Saturday, April 13, 2024
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RALEIGH, N.C. -- North Carolina's health agency and a nonprofit defending people with intellectual and developmental disabilities have reached an agreement that could resolve a lawsuit seeking action to help those who can't live at home because services in their communities are lacking.

North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services and Disability Rights North Carolina announced this week they had filed in court a proposed order that would address litigation filed in 2017 by Disability Rights, individuals who need services and their guardians. It would also replace a 2022 ruling in that lawsuit from Superior Court Judge Allen Baddour that demanded DHHS provide more community services by certain dates.

Judge Baddour's order, in part, directed new admissions at state-run development centers, private intermediate care facilities and certain adult care homes had to stop as of early 2028 for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The state appealed Baddour's decision to the Court of Appeals, saying such changes would close some group homes and cause instability among people who prefer living in their current situations.

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Baddour delayed enforcement of his order in the meantime, which gave legal parties time to work out an agreement.

In a joint news release Wednesday, state officials and Disability Rights North Carolina said the consent order - if approved by Baddour - would create a two-year period in which DHHS would work to move more people into community-based services and remove them from institutional settings if they wish. The department also would implement a plan to address a shortage of well-paid direct-care workers. Detailed reporting requirements also would allow the legal parties and the judge to assess results and proposed future benchmarks, the release said.

"This proposed agreement marks the beginning of change, not the end," Disability Rights North Carolina legal director Emma Kinyanjui said in the release, adding the efforts will help get "change started now - instead of spending time and focus on the appeal."

Kelly Crosbie, the state's director of the Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities and Substance Use Services, said: "People with disabilities should have choices and be able to access services in the setting that is the best fit for them."

The litigation, in part, stems from a 1999 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that declared people with disabilities have the right, with conditions, to receive state-funded services in their communities, instead of in institutions.

Baddour ruled in 2020 that the state was violating a state law on an ongoing basis because people with disabilities were being unnecessarily institutionalized.

Should Baddour agree to replace his 2022 order with the consent order, the state would drop its appeal and Disability Rights North Carolina would dismiss its other outstanding claims against DHHS, the release said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.