Group home residents sue to avoid hospital

The Wilson Daily TimesDecember 20, 2009 

— Advocates for two Wilson group home residents have filed a federal lawsuit against the area's mental health agency and the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services to maintain funding that allowed the residents to live in their own apartments with 24-hour assistance.

The residents, identified in the suit as Marlo M. and Durwood W., are represented by attorneys with the Disability Rights North Carolina office in Raleigh. The two reside in a group home.

Last week, a temporary restraining order was approved by U.S. District Judge Terrence W. Boyle to prevent the residents from being moved to a state hospital until the case can be heard in court. Both residents have a double diagnosis of mental retardation and mental illness, according to the lawsuit.

A hearing is set in federal court in Raleigh for Dec. 28. The lawsuit was filed Dec. 11.

Marlo M. and Durwood W. both qualify for and receive state and federal funds that allowed them to live in an apartment. According to the complaint, the two residents have lived in the community successfully for many years.

But Karen Salacki, executive director of The Beacon Center, has pulled the state community support dollars, which pays for roughly half the staffing hours to care for people who qualify for around-the-clock supervision. The Beacon Center oversees all mental health, developmental disability and substance abuse services in Wilson, Edgecombe, Greene and Nash counties.

John Rittelmeyer, the lead attorney with the disability rights group, said terminating those state funds violates the settlement of a class action lawsuit from the 1980s. Rittelmeyer also argued that institutionalizing Marlo and Durwood violates the Americans With Disabilities Act.

The cost for an institution such as O'Berry Neuro-Medical Center, where Rittelmeyer said his clients would likely go, is about $130,000 a year.

In their own apartments with round-the-clock-care, Rittelmeyer said the cost is $30,000 a year cheaper.

Rittelmeyer said the U.S. Supreme Court ruled years ago to eliminate keeping people with disabilities institutionalized when they could be integrated in the community with community-based services.

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