Plunderbund learned Thursday that a class action complaint lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court, Southern District of Ohio, Eastern Division by six individuals and a Toledo care facility that names Ohio Governor John Kasich lead defendant.

The plaintiffs—Phyllis Ball by her General Guardian Phyllis Burba, Antonio Butler, individually Caryl Mason by her Next Friend Judge Cathy Mason-Jordan, Richard Walters by his Next Friend Magistrate Judge Linda Walters, Nathan Narowitz, individually Ross Hamilton by his Next Friend Sherry Hamilton and The Ability Center of Greater Toledo—named as defendants in the lawsuit Gov. John Kasich, John Martin, Director of the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities, John McCarthy, Director of the Ohio Department of Medicaid, Kevin Miller, Director of Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities.

The individuals bring the lawsuit are adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities who are institutionalized, or at serious risk of institutionalization, in Intermediate Care Facilities for Individuals with Intellectual Disabilities with eight or more beds. Each of the individual plaintiffs say they would prefer to reside in an integrated, community-based setting and receive integrated, community-based employment or day services. Moreover, they argue they are qualified for such services and would be able to live, work, and spend their time in the community with appropriate, individualized support.

“However, due to the Defendants’ administration, management, and funding of Ohio’s service system for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, they are experiencing or at serious risk of experiencing pervasive and widespread isolation and segregation in violation of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act,” plaintiff attorneys say in the filed lawsuit document says.

The six plaintiffs are part of a class of approximately 27,800 similarly-situated adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities throughout Ohio “who are needlessly institutionalized in publicly- and privately-operated large Intermediate Care Facilities [ICF] or are at serious risk of institutionalization because of systemic limitations on access to integrated, home and community-based services.” Because of where these individuals live and spend their day, “they are isolated from their communities and denied meaningful opportunities to interact with their non-disabled peers.”

Statewide, the lawsuit says, there are about 5,800 people with intellectual and developmental disabilities currently segregated in large intermediate care facilities, and over 40,000 people are on waiting lists for waiver services that would allow them to have appropriate supports in the community, Michael Kirkman, Executive Director of Disability Rights Ohio, said in a media release.

Cathy Costanzo, Executive Director of the Center for Public Representation, added, “As a result, class members experience segregation in the places they live, work and spend their days, in violation of federal law.”

Tim Harrington, Executive Director of The Ability Center, states, continued, “Ohio has invested for too long in segregated, institutional options instead of community opportunities. Ohio needs to give real options to people with developmental disabilities and their families so that they can live in the community with the care that they need, find jobs in the community with the help that they need, and pursue activities in the community with the support that they need.”

Gov. Kasich and the other named defendants, the lawsuit argues, already acknowledge in state budget filings that Ohio’s ICF “footprint is one of the largest in the United States.” The concern expressed is that “in direct opposition to the national trend away from institutional care, Ohio continues to maintain and invest in segregated settings for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.”

On Mr. Kasich’s presidential campaign Website, the claim is made in a section called “Lifting up Those with Mental Illness and Addiction” that “Ohio is helping individuals with mental illness by increasing the availability of health care, expanding housing options and investing in services that save lives.”

In the court document, plaintiffs say that Gov. Kasich and his administration have publicly recognized the need to rebalance Ohio’s service system and to provide greater access to home and community-based service options for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Again, their concern is that state leaders and their appointees haven’t made the administrative and budgetary changes needed to remedy and prevent the unnecessary and discriminatory segregation of the members of the plaintiff class.” The conclusion drawn is that whatever promises made to this special and vulnerable population that they can enjoy meaningful integration into the community remain unfulfilled.

By their actions and inactions, those bringing the lawsuit say Gov. Kasich and the other named defendants “have harmed the Individual Plaintiffs and the members of the Plaintiff class as a whole, perpetuating their segregation or causing them to be at serious risk of segregation in violation of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act.”

The Ability Center of Greater Toledo is a not-for-profit center for independent living incorporated in the state of Ohio. It’s a consumer-controlled, community-based, cross-disability agency that provides an array of independent living services to people with disabilities.

See the class action complaint lawsuit here:

Despite Ohio’s own laws and federal mandates to vocational rehabilitation agencies to deliver employment services in an integrated setting, plaintiffs and their representatives argue that Gov. Kasich and his appointees “continue to operate an employment system that is overly reliant on segregated settings for people in large Intermediate Care Facilities.” Ohio ranks third highest nationally in the percentage of its residents with intellectual and developmental disabilities receiving services in facility-based settings, and is one of only five states that relegate more than half of its residents with intellectual and developmental disabilities to sheltered workshops.

Ohio currently serves over 35,000 people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in these waiver programs, the filing document notes. It notes that 40,000-plus others across the state are waiting for community-based services.

“As long as the Defendants continue to maintain and rely upon segregated residential, employment, and day services, without a clear, measurable, long-term plan for achieving compliance with federal law, the Defendants’ administrative, operational, and funding decisions will fail to realize legal mandates under the ADA, Section 504, the Social Security Act, and the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Olmstead,” the lawsuit says.

In his official capacity as Ohio governor, John R. Kasich appoints the directors of the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities, the Ohio Department of Medicaid, and Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities. Gov. Kasich is responsible for directing, supervising, controlling, and setting policy for the executive departments of state government.

The Disability Advocacy Alliance [DAA], formed by parents and family members to protect the rights of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Ohio, is challenging Mr. Kasich to defend this population from harmful policies advanced by Disability Rights Ohio, the group that runs the state’s protection and advocacy system for individuals with disabilities.

In a statement today from DAA, the group says it wants “Governor Kasich and his administration to vigorously defend Ohio’s most vulnerable citizens from DRO’s recklessness.” Of great concern is a class action lawsuit filed by DRO against the state of Ohio over its ICF program that claims that the approximately 5,700 persons who live in ICF homes can live and work successfully in community settings.

Caroline Lahrmann, a spokesman for the group, said, “Ohio’s Developmental Disabilities system should reflect the values and decent hearts of the people of Ohio, not the motives of a federally funded, out-of-touch group of lawyers.”

Lahrmann went further, asking the state  to provide separate legal representation for these individuals so their interests and acute needs can be properly brought before the court. “We request Governor Kasich’s immediate attention to this matter due to the life-altering and dangerous consequences DRO’s class action could trigger,” she said.

Gov. Kasich is running for president this year for the second time since his first try in 2000. A central theme of his “positive message” based on his conservative values, is that he knows how to bring people together to lift them up to solve problems. His first try 16 years ago to live on Pennsylvania Ave in Washington wasn’t successful, and in his second try this year, he’s only won one state so far, Ohio. Nevertheless, he didn’t bow out as 14 others before him have, so he remains the third GOP candidate behind primary season leader Donald Trump and Ted Cruz in second place.

 

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