DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – State Attorney General Greg Abbott has filed a motion to remove Gov. Rick Perry from a lawsuit that claims he and other state officials violated the Americans With Disabilities Act by confining thousands of disabled individuals in nursing homes across the state without offering them the option to choose a different facility.
The lawsuit, which was filed in Dec. 2010 and seeks class-action status, is on behalf of six plaintiffs who say they were each “unnecessarily institutionalized” in nursing homes and alleges more than 4,500 others were across the state, as well.
The litigation doesn’t ask for money; it asks for change. And it doesn’t target the nursing homes, instead, it goes after state officials.
Perry tops that list. Abbott’s office has fired back with a motion to have the governor removed from the lawsuit, claiming he is not responsible.
Disability advocates, however, disagree.
“As the chief executive officer for the state, we feel that he’s certainly the appropriate person to have in the lawsuit since he’s ultimately responsible as the governor to make sure Texas is complying with federal law,” said Garth Corbett, spokesman for Disability Rights Texas.
Perry declined to comment on the litigation, but his deputy press secretary said the governor expects the Department of Aging and Disability Services to ensure that the most vulnerable Texans get proper care.
Dallas resident Benny Holmes, 32, has never spoken a word. He was born with cerebral palsy and mental retardation, and in 2009 wound up in the hospital with epilepsy.
He was discharged to a nursing home, where his mother says he became depressed and withdrawn.
“If I ever hated a place, I hated that place,” said Priscilla Holmes, his mother. “They would sit Benny in this dayroom, for him to be there all day.”
When she tried to move him to a community center closer to their home, she found she couldn’t.
“They said they didn’t want Benny to leave there,” Holmes said.
Dallas-based attorney Yvette Ostolaza is representing Benny and the five other plaintiffs in the lawsuit pro bono.
“(Benny’s) mother was told he couldn’t be taken care of at home, and that she essentially would be a bad mother if she brought him back home,” Ostolaza said. “She was made to feel that was her only option.”
Thomas Suehs, Executive Commissioner of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, and Chris Traylor, Commissioner of the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services, are named in the suit along with Perry.
Corbett said the lawsuit could force those state leaders to follow federal laws that he says have been ignored for more than 22 years. The laws guarantee specialized services to the developmentally disabled “up to the point where they can be as independent as possible,” Corbett said.
“They were being warehoused in nursing homes instead of being moved to less restrictive community centers,” he added. “That did not occur, and it’s not occurring statewide.”
With Corbett’s help, Benny was finally moved to a community home two years after being placed in the nursing home. He now has his own room, his own wheelchair and regular physical therapy.
Within months, his mother said he put on 40 pounds. She said he regained his health, and even started to smile again.
“I thought Benny would never smile, I thought he would never feel like he’s a person again,” she said. “But when I saw him smile? That was the best joy I ever felt.”
“We got him out,” she added. “And if we can get Benny out, we can get others out.”