Lawsuit: Tens of Thousands of People with Disabilities in North Carolina At-Risk of Being Unnecessarily Institutionalized

Legal gavel and an open book

by Andy Jones
June 9, 2017

Disability Rights North Carolina filed a class-action lawsuit in state court May 24, accusing the state of systematically failing to operate services that provide for people with disabilities to live independently.

"The lack of community-based services for people with (intellectual/developmental disabilities) is a long-standing problem in North Carolina, and the State’s efforts to address it have been insufficient," DRNC Executive Director Vikki Smith said in a news release. "There are thousands of people on waiting lists for community-based services, and the number keeps growing. They languish on those waiting lists for years—in some cases, more than a decade.

“Without services, people with I/DD are vulnerable to dependence and institutionalization."

Nearly 6,000 people with disabilities currently live segregated lives in the state’s network of institutional facilities, which include large state-operated facilities and mostly privately-run intermediate care facilities, adult homes and family care homes.

As described in the complaint, hallmarks of such facilities includes “rigid and restrictive rules and schedules, limited freedom of movement, lack of choice regarding timing and content of meals, roommates, décor, and how and where to spend free time, resulting in the lack of meaningful contact with family, friends, or peers without disabilities.”

On average, it costs the state $150,000 annually to place individuals in such facilities, as opposed to $60,000 in more community based settings.

About 12,000 people in the state are currently receiving community-based services through the state’s Medicaid-funded Innovations Waiver, while more than 10,000 people are currently on a waiting list, known as the Registry of Unmet Needs.

This waiting list is growing. Hundreds of people have been waiting for more than a decade, despite being individually assessed as eligible for a Waiver slot.

In or around November 2016, many of the individuals currently receiving services through the Waiver received notices of impending cuts, which Disability Rights North Carolina contends they have little meaningful opportunity to appeal.

Attorneys from the law firm Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP are assisting Disability Rights North Carolina in the lawsuit, which includes a variety of allegations under the North Carolina Persons with Disabilities Protection Act and other relevant state laws.

The full complaint, filed in the Superior Court of Wake County, can be read here [PDF].

Disability Rights Washington and Disability Rights North Carolina are the designated protection and advocacy agencies in Washington and North Carolina, and are members of the National Disability Rights Network.