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Lawsuit Alleges N.H. Is Failing To Administer Program For Seniors, People With Disabilities

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A federal lawsuit alleges the state is failing to provide adequate services for older residents and those with disabilities, placing them at greater risk of landing in a nursing home or other institutional setting.

The suit, filed Monday, was brought by the AARP Foundation, Disability Rights Center-New Hampshire, New Hampshire Legal Assistance and the Nixon Peabody law firm on behalf of four individuals, identified only by their first names. 

It contends that the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services is improperly administering the Choices for Independence program, which provides in-home caregivers to assist those who qualify in daily tasks, including bathing, toileting and moving from chairs into a bed. Without these services, the suit contends, older residents and people with disabilities are more likely to end up in nursing facilities, where they have worse health outcomes and, at the moment, are at greater risk of contracting COVID-19.

“Each of the named plaintiffs desperately desires to remain in their communities and does not want to be institutionalized,” the 44-page lawsuit reads. The plaintiffs are seeking class action status.

A spokesperson for the state said they hadn’t received a copy of the petition and couldn’t yet comment.

The lawsuit alleges the state’s payment rates to caregivers are insufficient to attract enough workers to properly staff the program, resulting in a statewide shortage. The legal challenge also says the state isn’t properly informing program applicants of their right to appeal decisions.

The suit was brought on behalf of plaintiffs identified as Paul S., Stephanie P., Kathleen B., and Emily F., all of whom live with profound disabilities due to medical conditions, or resulting from accidents, according to the suit. 

“Some of our most vulnerable citizens are one crisis away from unnecessary institutionalization because they are not getting essential [Choices for Independence] services,” said Pamela Phelan, litigation director for Disability Rights Center-New Hampshire, in a statement. “Without these services, they linger for hours or days alone in bed or confined in their own homes, unable to attend to basic personal needs. The state has long been aware of these problems and we cannot wait any longer for a solution.”

Todd started as a news correspondent with NHPR in 2009. He spent nearly a decade in the non-profit world, working with international development agencies and anti-poverty groups. He holds a master’s degree in public administration from Columbia University.
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