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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
Juan Martinez, a spokesman for the state's Executive Office of Health
and Human Services, the list compiled in November is "very
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.
assessment shows that the care they need can only be provided in
a nursing facility, then they'll stay at a nursing facility,"
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.
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
The state does
not move people involuntarily, said Mr. Martinez.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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?