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Home » Informative Articles & Documents » Parents shift bid to keep 31 in home

Informative Links About the Victims of the Rolland Lawsuit Facing Life Threatening De-institutionalization

Parents shift bid to keep 31 in home

Boston Globe 8/17/2008

by Connie Paige
Options are running out for parents of 31 profoundly mentally retarded residents of a skilled nursing home in Groton trying to reverse the state's plans to move them to small group homes.

After failing to make headway at a recent meeting with top state officials, the parents are now trying to enlist state lawmakers and the courts to make the case that their children might suffer life-threatening medical setbacks in the new environment.

"I think it's a gross human rights violation," said Louis Putterman, of Concord, a professor at Brown University whose 33-year-old daughter - who is blind, unable to talk or walk, and fed through a tube - currently resides at the Seven Hills Pediatric Center in Groton, which serves residents with a mental age of less than one year.

State officials have said they are bound by a June settlement agreement in a lawsuit filed in 1998 in US District Court in Springfield on behalf of Loretta Rolland and others statewide with mental retardation or other developmental disabilities. The settlement requires the state to transfer a quota of 640 of the nursing home residents to group homes by 2012. The transfers also figure in a $20 million initiative by Governor Deval Patrick, called Community First, to provide community homes to more than 30,000 disabled and elderly.

"The case focused on hundreds of people . . . who had no choice but to live in nursing facilities," said Jennifer Kritz, spokeswoman for the state Executive Office of Human Services. "The case required the state to develop community living options, and many people have already successfully moved into the community."

Kritz said the settlement has been widely applauded, including by ARC, the Association of Developmental Disabilities Providers, and parents of other individuals named in the case. To comply with the settlement quota, state officials drew up a list of the 640 individuals to be moved.

But, while conceding many on the list might benefit from community placement, Putterman said it is not true for others like the Seven Hills residents, who suffer from serious medical conditions.

Putterman, acting as spokesman for the Seven Hills parents, called the state's decision to cooperate with the settlement quota "extremely irresponsible."

Kritz said the list is "preliminary," and state officials will medically evaluate all those on it and work with families and guardians to consider options.

Putterman said his daughter Laura is not on the list now. Still, he said, if others are removed, she might replace them because of the state's need to fulfill the quota.

Putterman said Laura would not be a candidate for group home placement, since, as a result of brain damage at birth, she suffers from cerebral palsy and a seizure disorder that could prove fatal if she is not medically monitored round-the-clock. He said others on the list have similar needs.

State officials have said the group homes will have the necessary manpower and equipment to monitor medically fragile group home residents. While sufficient homes to accommodate those destined for transfer do not exist now, the officials say they will be built.

But many parents are skeptical the cash-strapped state will have the funds to construct enough new homes. "It doesn't seem that this state is coming up with all sorts of new money to create high-tech facilities," Putterman said.

Seven Hills parent representatives tried to make that case in a meeting last month with state Health and Human Services Secretary JudyAnn Bigby and Assistant Secretary Jean McGuire, but were rebuffed.

"It's discouraging," Putterman said. "Very discouraging."

Now, Putterman said Seven Hills parents may have corralled some state lawmakers to try to alter the process.

Kritz said officials at the human services and mental retardation agencies "look forward to discussing the parents' concerns with legislators and with parents and guardians."

The parents also are hoping for a court reversal of the settlement. Stephen M. Sheehy, the parents' attorney, who filed an appeal last month, argues that the state did not consult with parents, as guardians of the residents, before including them in the class-action lawsuit and the settlement - what he calls a violation of their due process rights.

If the appeal were successful, it would vacate the settlement agreement, Sheehy said.

If the appeal fails, he said he is concerned about all the people with mental retardation and disabilities across the state who might be inappropriate for transfer.

"It's entirely possible there are going to be people who are moved, and nobody's going to squawk, because they don't know what their rights are, don't have access to a lawyer, or just will be intimidated by the state," Sheehy said. "That's the big fear."

Kritz declined to comment on the appeal.

Online Boston Globe Version Can Be Viewed Here

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* These pages constitute a repository of recent historical information and no longer concern an active suit.