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Seven disabled plaintiffs have sued the state, seeking class action status for as many as 50,000 disabled Georgia residents who are housed in nursing homes instead of receiving care in their homes and communities. The suit, filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Atlanta, claims state agencies routinely place physically disabled individuals in institutional care rather than providing nursing or therapeutic care near their homes. Birdsong v. Perdue, No. 1:03-cv0288 (N.D. Ga. Feb. 3, 2003). In doing so, the state is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act, the suit claims. The practice also allegedly violates federal Medicaid laws, the suit claims, by depriving disabled Georgians “of a meaningful choice between nursing home health care and the more integrated care programs that are provided in the community.” Georgia ranks “close to the bottom” in the percentage of Medicaid participants receiving home health care rather than nursing home confinement, according to the suit. CLASS STATUS SOUGHT The suit was filed by Sutherland Asbill & Brennan on behalf of the plaintiffs, who range in age from 33 to 68. SAB attorney Charles T. Lester is handling the case pro bono with Susan Walker Goico, Judith A. O’Brien and Teresa Wynn Roseborough, all of Sutherland Asbill. They are seeking an injunction that would require the state to offer home health care services immediately to its disabled community and loosen restrictions that limit participation in those programs. Lester said that most of the plaintiffs are either in nursing homes or at risk of being institutionalized because of their physical disabilities. They are among thousands of disabled Georgians, he said, “waiting for community care services. … They are eligible for service. They are in need of service. It should be provided.” Defendants include Gov. George E. “Sonny” Perdue III, the Georgia Department of Community Health, the Georgia Department of Human Resources, Human Resources Commissioner James F. Martin, and Community Health Commissioner Gary Redding. DHR spokesman Jed Nitzberg said staff attorneys would not comment and have not seen the suit. Lester said that many disabled Georgians never were told that Georgia has several programs, funded by Medicaid, that pay for home health care. “What we want and what we think the law requires is that people be informed of the option and make a choice as to whether they want to stay in a nursing home or have home- or community-based placement.” Many disabled state residents who have applied for home health care remain on waiting lists while they languish in nursing homes, according to the complaint. State officials have said that is because the state can’t pay for those home nursing programs. “Many class members in institutions and living in their homes have been waiting for years to obtain the community-based, long-term care services they require,” the suit claims.

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