Florida enhances program for disabled children

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 11, 2013 at 12:55 pm •  Published: February 11, 2013
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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Florida health officials said Monday they will assign care coordinators to about 1,600 children with disabilities amid allegations from federal health officials that the state was cutting in-home services and essentially forcing kids into adult nursing homes.

An individual care coordinator will work with no more than 40 disabled children at a time who are receiving in-home nursing services and ensure they have continued access to those services. The Agency for Health Care Administration said it will begin the transition within 90 days. Many of the children require ventilators, feeding tubes and other machinery that is too complicated for parents to monitor.

The changes come several months after federal health officials threatened to sue the state and accused it of violating federal law by allowing more than 200 children with disabilities and even babies to be kept in nursing homes, often for years.

Federal regulators say children languish in facilities, sharing common areas with elderly patients and having few interactions with others, rarely leaving the nursing homes or going outside. After visiting children in six nursing homes, investigators noted the children are not exposed to social, educational and recreational activities that are critical to child development. Educational opportunities are limited to as little as 45 minutes a day, according to a detailed letter from U.S. Department of Justice officials last year.

A lawsuit filed in South Florida federal court on behalf of more than a dozen children last year echoes similar complaints, alleging more than 3,300 children with disabilities are at risk of being pushed into adult nursing homes because the state is slashing nursing and other services that would otherwise keep them at home with their families.