State pressured to comply with disabilities
Officials must present plan to help institutionalized live on
by Mike Chalmers, Delaware News
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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
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,
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
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
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
Carl Schnee, Democratic Party candidate for attorney general,
said he did not know whether the state has done enough to
comply with the ruling.