Forced Institutionalization of People With Disabilities Is Illegal

The U.S. District Court in Jacksonville, Fla., found recently that a quadriplegic woman must be provided with services allowing her to stay in her home and not be institutionalized. The civil-rights ruling reinforces a landmark case that prevents isolation and stigmatization of people with disabilities.

The U.S. District Court in Jacksonville, Fla., ruled recently that Michele Haddad must be provided with services that will allow her to stay in her home. Haddad, who has a spinal-cord injury caused by a motorcycle accident with a drunk driver three years ago, was at risk of being forced into a nursing home because of changes in her caregiver situation. Although the 49-year-old woman has been on the waiting list for Medicaid community-based waiver services for two years and had alerted the state of her need, she was told that the requested services would only be available if she was admitted to a nursing home for 60 days.

In Haddad v. Arnold, the plaintiff argued that she would suffer irreparable harm if forced to enter a nursing home.

The court agreed, ordering the state to offer Haddad community-based services. The reason: Segregating people with disabilities is a form of discrimination, as found in Olmstead v. L.C. This landmark disability-rights decision determined that isolating people with disabilities in institutional settings deprives them of the opportunity to participate in their communities, interact with individuals who don’t have disabilities and make daily choices. The ruling also acknowledged that unnecessary institutionalization stigmatizes people with disabilities.

The Olmstead decision, which marks its 11th anniversary this week, is not the first such case that the U.S Department of Justice has filed briefs. The DOJ is involved in several other cases in Illinois and New Jersey, as part of its mission to end discrimination against people with disabilities.

“In the Olmstead case, the court recognized that the unnecessary segregation of individuals with disabilities stigmatizes those individuals as unworthy of participation in community life,” stated Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Thomas E. Perez. “By supporting Ms. Haddad in this case, we seek to ensure that individuals with disabilities can receive services in the most integrated setting appropriate, where they can participate in their communities, interact with individuals who do not have disabilities and make their own day-to-day choices.”

The Department of Justice’s involvement in these cases reinforce the Obama administration’s national efforts to protect the rights of all people.

“This work is a priority for the Civil Rights Division, and we are committed to aggressive enforcement of Olmstead so that we can build upon progress made over the last 11 years,” said Perez earlier this week. “But our work is only one piece of a larger, administration-wide effort to make the promise of Olmstead a reality for individuals with disabilities nationwide. Real reform requires a holistic approach. As a lifelong public servant, I recognize that the most vexing problems a government faces are those that require unprecedented interagency collaboration and coordination. The unnecessary and illegal institutionalization of individuals with disabilities who would be better served, and better able to contribute to their communities, if they were provided services in integrated settings, is one of those problems.”


  • this decision has the potential for enormous ramifications for persons with disabilities as well as taxpayers. how does the government balance the two factors? Realistically people only have a right to what they can afford or can be afforded to be be provided.

    • False imprisonment like, Japanese camps of old. The idea prevents Instituting political and religious prisoners who oppose an idea. Deemed unfit mentally, due to their beliefs. It is a scary road to deny individuals the basic rights of society due to their disabilities. Which can be manifested by perception of the corrupt. In 1776 on the 4th of July, men where willing to stake their life’s, fortune and family such day would not come to this. History is an amazing cycle of mishaps performed over and over again in a different manner with similar outcomes. It usually starts with denial of due process, no tyrant like to hear reason.

  • Does this apply to those who are disabled because of illnesses associated with aging?

  • What is the definition of “institution”? If that applies to sheltered workshops and group homes, I know a lot of people that feel those are their only choices; but are capable of much more integrated living.

  • Just imagine all the people in guardianships who are locked away that could be and should be allowed to live in their homes and in the community.

  • People with health problems–even if their ignorance has brought on the problem–have a right to decent care, I would think. Health is not a commodity to be bought by the wealthy and to be kept scarce for the poor. A community shares its wealth to take care of the members of the community where they face calamities that go beyond their financial abilities. In that sense, the tax payer does not own tax money; the tax payer owes to the community whatever s/he makes beyond his/her need. I think Warren Buffett has addressed that issue quite nicely in a recent interview. Brevity may make this sound like a pontification, but I think that a solid case can be made in support of this view.

  • Interesting that the US courts will entertain ADA type actions but yet they are exempt from the ADA; leaving pro se litigants vulnerable to abuse from the other side unl;less the court will grant special accommodations and assist the pro se litigant with obtaining those services.

  • In Medicaid, “institution” is defined as a nursing home.

    Olmstead applies to all people with disabilities, including younger adults with physical disabilities, older adults with aging-related disabilities and adults with developmental disabilities.

    The state’s requirement that people enter a nursing home for 60 days before accessing home and community based services in Medicaid is completely illogical from a consumer’s point of view. State budgetary crises have forced many states to put waiting lists or to impose onerous requirements on their community based care programs. Health reform does give states considerable additional funding for these programs, so hopefully these problems will become less acute in the years to come.

  • This is very upsetting on both sides of the issue. Nice news for this lady but bad news for taxpayers. Also bad news for millions of people in nursing homes who have lost their bank accounts and homes to pay for their nursing home care. I do not know one person that went into a nursing home who did not try to find care at home first. The cost is prohibitive. You cannot find private people who will do it. Agency fees were prohibitive to most. Notice I say were. Pandora’s Box has been opened. I look for this to be overturned. It is hard enough for nursing homes to find staff at the low wages they must pay. And one staff person can care for 8 or more in a home. One RN per floor. This lady’s would need her own RN daily, her own cook, her own aides… Sorry but get real. At best I would say the state could kick in the same dollars paid to keep her in a nursing home. The burden would be on her to find someone to work for that. She will never find any one. There is nothing fair for a quadriplegic. Society can not afford the luxury the courts have afforded this lady. So very sorry not to be her champion…

  • As a woman who became disabled 31 years ago, and whose family fought to keep me from being institutionalized, I cannot believe this type of forced action is still taking place in America today.

    Had I been institutionalized 31 years ago, I most likely would have passed away due to secondary issues such as bed sores, infections, etc.

    Instead today I hold two degrees, I am a successful business woman, married, with a beautiful five year old daughter, and I would like to believe, I have made a difference in the communities I have lived.

    For any of you who are questioning the “cost” of reversing this forced action – ask yourselves, what would you do if tomorrow you awoke in an institution (nursing home, etc.), and were stripped of your rights of freedom. You could not leave of your own accord. You could not choose your meals, or activities for the day. You would be forced to sit and wait out your existence.

    Think of this…then decide…what can you do to SAVE these innocent people, and give them life?

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