Thursday, December 5, 2013
Three men with cerebral palsy are suing the state, alleging that its policies have forced them to remain confined in nursing homes.
Jake Van Meter, 26, Adam Fletcher, 28, and Eric Reeves, 33, claim that the Maine Department of Health and Human Services should provide support that would let them move into apartments and live more independently. By not doing so, the department has violated their rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the federal Nursing Home Reform Act, lawyers for the men say.
''The plaintiffs are currently segregated in nursing facilities, where they do not receive even minimally adequate training, habilitation or support services, as required by law,'' the lawyers wrote in the 20-page lawsuit filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Bangor. ''Each of the plaintiffs strongly desires to leave the nursing facility and live in a setting that is more integrated in the community.''
Van Meter lives in a nursing home in Ellsworth. Fletcher is a Maine resident who has lived for the past three years in a facility in Braintree, Mass. Reeves lives in a nursing home in Penobscot. They are represented by Maine Equal Justice Partners, the Disability Rights Center of Maine and the National Health Law Program.
A summons was issued Monday to be served on Brenda Harvey, commissioner of the DHHS. John Martins, a spokesman for the department, said he will not comment on the lawsuit while it is pending.
Van Meter, Fletcher and Reeves have significant physical limitations, but their cognitive abilities are average or above average, according to the lawsuit and a Web site created by Van Meter, who has been raising money toward the construction of a group home where he and others could live.
The men claim that the DHHS is required by law to screen them for eligibility for specialized services, then to provide those services in a community-based setting if they qualify. The department has failed on both counts, the men claim.
They say they have unnecessarily been forced into institutions, which is a form of discrimination and violates federal law.
The lawsuit seeks an injunction to force the state to provide support for the men in a community setting, to provide specialized services to help them integrate with the community, and to change the policies that have prevented the men from living more independently.
''I do not want to spend the rest of my life here,'' Van Meter wrote on his Web site.
''We live in a society that places great emphasis on independence, personal rights, and ensuring that each living creature is living in an environment suited to them. We protect wetlands so that frogs, insects and the like can live in an appropriate environment. We protect the natural habitats of polar bears, eagles and lady slippers yet we allow young individuals in need of physical assistance to be placed in nursing homes,'' Van Meter wrote. ''We have no age appropriate settings aimed at fostering a normal social lifestyle. It does not seem right or fair.''
Staff Writer Trevor Maxwell can be contacted at 791-6451 or at: