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 Article of Interest - Olmstead Decision

State pressured to comply with disabilities law
Officials must present plan to help institutionalized live on their own
by Mike Chalmers, Delaware News Journal, 9/18/2002
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Three years after a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Delaware still does not have a comprehensive plan to get people with disabilities out of institutions and living on their own, experts and state officials said Tuesday.

Most states have not complied fully with the ruling known as the Olmstead decision, said Tony Records, a disabilities expert and president of a human-services consulting firm in Bethesda, Md. But many states have planned ways to comply, and Records urged Delaware to finish its plan soon.

Speaking at a Wilmington conference sponsored by the Delaware Disabilities Forum, Records said Delaware should not let its current financial shortfall keep it from meeting the requirements of the law.

The release of the state's plan is "imminent," said Allison Taylor Levine, spokeswoman for the state Department of Health and Social Services. "It's not quite done, but it's almost there."

Several divisions within the department have drafted plans related to Olmstead, and the department must pull them together, she said.

The 1999 ruling, involving Georgia and two mentally disabled women, found that the Americans with Disabilities Act required states to place people with disabilities in "the most integrated setting appropriate."

"When the Americans with Disabilities Act was developed [in 1990], people thought of ramps in stores and restaurants," Records said. The Olmstead decision expanded that to include community access for people with developmental disabilities, he said.

Levine said Delaware already has done much to get people out of institutions in the past 20 years.

The population of the state's facility for mentally disabled people, the Stockley Center in Georgetown, has dropped from 699 residents in 1982 to about 180 today, she said. Everyone who can live on their own is expected to do so in the next two or three years, leaving about 100 people in the facility, she said.

But disability advocates said the state has dragged its feet too long on complying with the Olmstead decision. They pointed to the state's decision to ban state workers from attending Tuesday's conference.

Gregory Patterson, spokesman for Gov. Ruth Ann Minner, said attorneys told the governor that state workers should not attend because of a pending lawsuit by three disabilities advocacy groups, including The Arc of Delaware. The suit claims the state is violating the Olmstead ruling by keeping too many people in institutions and not giving enough support to people living on their own.

"The state was advised not to send people to that conference because these are the people who sued the state," Patterson said. "Any conversations in that room would have been subject to discovery" in a lawsuit.

The conference originally was scheduled for last spring and would have featured state workers discussing Olmstead plans, said Attorney General M. Jane Brady, who founded and is chairwoman of the forum. The Arc filed its lawsuit three weeks before the conference, so organizers canceled it, she said.

"We remodeled the entire conference. ... This is just a listening opportunity, a learning opportunity," Brady said. "It's unfortunate that the people who will be responsible for implementing Olmstead aren't going to be here."

Vivian Houghton, Green Party candidate for attorney general, said Brady should have been doing more to push the state into compliance with the Olmstead ruling.

"The state has to be sued to do what it's supposed to do," she said.

Carl Schnee, Democratic Party candidate for attorney general, said he did not know whether the state has done enough to comply with the ruling.
 

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