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NEW YORK — HIV-positive patients across the country are alleging that live-in health care facilities discriminate against them. Cecil Little, 50, a Louisiana man, has filed such a claim with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Civil Rights. He accuses six nursing homes of refusing to admit him because he has the virus that causes AIDS. Little alleges a violation of the federal rehabilitation act of 1973, which prohibits health care providers and others that receive federal funding from keeping out people with disabilities. Little had two strokes and multiple brain aneurysms that left him in a monthlong coma. When he emerged from it in March 2003, none of the six nursing homes in the Amite, La., area would admit him because he had HIV, his lawyers allege. He was placed 80 miles away from home. “They all said, ‘Sure we’ve got room,’ but when they received the form that says � that he has HIV, they would turn around and reject,” said Brian Chase, a Dallas attorney with Lambda Legal, a gay and lesbian rights’ organization representing Little. All six homes near Little’s community preliminarily accepted him before they found out about his HIV, the lawyer said. He added, “He requires far less care than many other stroke victims nursing homes take all the time.” Cases like this are becoming more common as some AIDS patients age, said Jonathan Givner, a New York-based Lambda lawyer. He sees a senior population becoming ill from typical maladies, such as strokes, that are more pressing problems than being HIV positive. Stephanie Buckner, an investigator at the health and human services’ civil rights office, said she sees a steady flow of such cases. “Discrimination in nursing homes is a constant,” she said. “It’s the nature of the culture, cherry picking.” She described “cherry picking” as giving preference to private payers and patients who need less complex care. People with AIDS, Alzheimer’s disease and behavioral problems are at the bottom of most facilities’ wish lists, she said. Buckner said that such patients are within the licensure standards of a nursing home. “We’re not asking a nursing home to go beyond what it’s required to do,” she said. Ronda Goldfein, a lawyer and executive director of the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania, in a complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, alleged that a personal care home had refused to accept a client whom she would not name. Goldfein said this was in violation of the Federal Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988. That act compels, among others, personal care homes, which fall somewhere between nursing homes and assisted-living facilities, to make reasonable accommodations for a person with a disability. “He’s going to perish if he doesn’t have a place that fits his needs,” she said of her client, who is legally blind, has heart disease and advanced AIDS. She claimed that her client was refused admission to the Loving Heart Personal Care Home in Lycoming County, Pa., because its staff was not comfortable taking care of AIDS patients. The home declined to comment. HUD settled the case, but her client is still waiting for a bed, Goldfein said. Buckner said some hospital social workers are reluctant to file complaints because they rely on rapport with nursing homes in getting patients admitted. Instead of complaining, she said, they “beat the bushes” looking for homes that will take these less desirable patients. The government will investigate Little’s complaint and, if it finds the complaint well founded, will seek to mediate a solution, officials said. Ultimately, a home found to be out of compliance could face a lawsuit or loss of federal funding. None of the six homes accused by Little has formally responded to his complaint. One of them, Hammond Nursing Home in Hammond, La., through its counsel, denied that it discriminates against anyone. Tom Cowan of New Orleans’ Preston & Cowan, who represents the home, said he was not yet familiar with the Little claim. He said it is “very difficult for a nursing home to take those types of patients,” referring to high-maintenance patients. He said he didn’t know whether Hammond has any HIV-positive patients. Allison C. Altmann is a staff reporter for The National Law Journal , a Recorder affiliate based in New York City.

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