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Home » Informative Articles & Documents » Parents Fear Severely Disabled Daughter Will Be Forced From Nursing Home

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

Parents fear severely disabled daughter will be forced from nursing home

New Bedford Times 8/23/2008

For all but the first nine months of her life, Erin Poulin, now 32, has lived in the Seven Hills Pediatric Center in Groton.

Erin has a mental age of zero to three months. She doesn't speak; she doesn't cry. She is in a wheelchair and is fed through a tube in her stomach.

"She's totally dependent for all of her care on someone other than herself," said Erin's mother, Michele Poulin, who lives in Acushnet.

Erin is not at Seven Hills because her parents don't want her.

She is there because she requires round-the-clock medical supervision and assistance that her parents — no matter how desperately they want to — can't provide.

"I don't think my daughter would be as old as she is if she was in another facility," said Mrs. Poulin. "They're the family that we can't be."

But now Erin and about 42 other residents at Seven Hills have been caught up in a class-action lawsuit that aims to remove them from the nursing home and place them in a community setting, a move adamantly opposed by the residents' guardians.

The lawsuit, Rolland v. Patrick, was filed in 1998 by the Center for Public Representation, a public-interest law firm, on behalf of state-supported patients with mental retardation and other developmental disabilities who were living in nursing facilities.

A settlement agreement was reached in the case earlier this year that requires the state to transfer at least 640 class members from nursing homes into the community by the end of fiscal 2012.

A preliminary list — the Rolland Community Placement List — was drawn up in November 2007; Erin and 30 other Seven Hills residents are on this list, according to Mrs. Poulin, who said she first learned of the lawsuit in April.

As Mrs. Poulin understands it, Erin's inclusion on that list means she can be moved from Seven Hills into a group home or community setting — even if Mrs. Poulin and Gary, her husband and Erin's father, object to the transfer, she said.

"Don't you think we as parents would have loved to see her in a group home if we thought she was physically able to go?" asked Mr. Poulin. "She's physically not able to do that."

According to Juan Martinez, a spokesman for the state's Executive Office of Health and Human Services, the list compiled in November is "very preliminary."

Before anyone is transferred out of a nursing home facility, he or she will undergo a thorough evaluation, a process that will involve parents or guardians as well as medical staff and Department of Mental Retardation representatives, said Mr. Martinez.

"If their assessment shows that the care they need can only be provided in a nursing facility, then they'll stay at a nursing facility," he said.

Despite such assurances, the Poulins and other parents of Seven Hills residents are unconvinced that their children are secure at Seven Hills. They've engaged an attorney, Steven Sheehy, to represent the affected residents, known as the "Groton plaintiffs" in court records.

Mr. Sheehy tried unsuccessfully to have the Rolland class decertified and is now appealing the settlement agreement in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.

"They have to find 640 people to fill those slots," said Mr. Sheehy. "Our concern is that when they get to our people, whether or not it's appropriate, they're going to railroad these people into community placements."

The state does not move people involuntarily, said Mr. Martinez.

"We certainly don't force people, but we do work with them to transfer them into the community," he said.

Yet for the Groton plaintiffs, community placements offer no potential benefits, according to Louis Putterman, an unofficial spokesman for the group whose daughter has been a Seven Hills resident for 24 years.

Although Mr. Putterman's daughter is not on the placement list now, there is no guarantee she won't be placed on the list in the future, he said.

All Seven Hills residents have been judged to have a mental age of 12 months or less, a prerequisite for admission, he said.

"The cognitive limitation already implies that there's no way that they can benefit from being in smaller group homes," he said. "And, medically, they're so fragile that a group home cannot have the kind of depth of coverage that their nursing home has."

It is that uncertainty that makes the position the Groton plaintiffs are in particularly untenable, according to Mr. Putterman.

"The state is very inhumanely forcing us to live with that threat over our heads," he said. "Our only protection is that we can appeal if we don't like their decision, which doesn't seem like a very secure position to be in."

Individual assessments of people on the preliminary placement list will happen at a pace that ensures the state meets the minimum requirement of 160 placements a year, according to Mr. Martinez.

State officials have met with families of the Groton plaintiffs a few times to explain the settlement agreement, he said, and will continue to educate those families, and the families of other class members, on the community placement options.

For now, Mr. and Mrs. Poulin live with the anxiety of not knowing what will happen to their daughter — and the anger provoked by feeling like they have no say.

"I am her mother. I gave birth to her," said Mrs. Poulin. "How can they determine what is best for my child if they don't know her from a hole in the wall?

Online New Bedford Standard Times 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.