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Nursing Facility Residents with Disabilities Sue Over State of Maryland’s Failure to Provide Oversight and Investigate Complaints

Yesterday, a group of nursing facility residents with disabilities and mobility impairments filed a class action lawsuit against the Maryland Department of Health in the U.S. District Court for Maryland alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. The lawsuit seeks to compel the state agency to hold the nursing facilities accountable when they fail to ensure that residents’ federal and state rights are honored and that they receive services to support their health, safety, and quality of life.

The State’s failure to conduct annual surveys of over 80% of nursing facilities combined with its backlog of overdue complaints has left a trail of harm, robbing residents of dignity, denying them essential care, risking their health and even lives, and violating state and federal laws that govern Medicare and Medicaid-funded facilities.

All of the representative plaintiffs are individuals with mobility-related disabilities who rely entirely on nursing facilities for assistance with toileting, eating, mobility, and personal hygiene. However, these high-need residents are often left unattended for hours in soiled linens and clothing, with their calls for help going unanswered. None of the representative plaintiffs are able to get out of bed or leave their rooms unless staff assist them, and some remain confined to their rooms or beds for weeks or months. Consequently, many have developed bed sores, with others at risk of developing them. These conditions amount to violations of both state and federal regulations, and the plaintiffs face serious harm if left unaddressed.

The State’s failure to adequately regulate nursing facilities has not landed evenly across populations. More than 50% of nursing facilities that have a majority of Black residents have the lowest ratings on the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Care compare website (1 or 2 stars).

“When older adults and others with mobility-related disabilities enter nursing facilities, they generally have to give up a lot – their lives in the community, their sense of independence. That tradeoff is significant, but to not actually get the care you are entitled to, to be treated in a way that robs you of your dignity, then that tradeoff becomes unconscionable. It’s the state’s role to keep nursing facilities from treating people this way,” said Regan Bailey, Litigation Director at Justice in Aging.

“Even when residents are able to file a complaint with the state about their care, those complaints end up in a backlog of thousands of others and may go unanswered for years. The state has received more than 13,000 complaints over the past three years and fewer than half have been investigated,” said Ashley Woolard, Lead Attorney for the Health and Benefits Equity Project at the Public Justice Center. “Right now, Maryland’s nursing facility residents have been left without a lifeline to the agency responsible for investigating allegations of abuse, neglect, and other serious rights violations.”

“Our lawsuit aims to ensure that our clients who have mobility impairments can live in nursing homes that provide a safe and supportive environment. The special needs of those living in nursing homes are worthy of our attention and prioritization,” said Sheila Boston, partner at Arnold & Porter.

Read the complaint. Attorneys for the plaintiffs include the Public Justice Center, Justice in Aging, and Arnold & Porter.

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