Justice Department opens investigation into whether Missouri is violating ADA

The United States Justice Department announced it is opening an investigation to determine whether or not the State of Missouri has violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by unnecessarily placing adults with severe mental illness in skilled nursing facilities, according to a press release.

“People with disabilities have too often been unlawfully isolated in institutions and stripped of their autonomy,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “The Civil Rights Division will continue to defend the rights of individuals with mental health disabilities to access the community-based services they need and to participate fully in community life.”

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According to Gov. Mike Parson's office, they just received the letter from the DOJ on Wednesday, and declined to comment at this time.

The Missouri Department of Health and Human Services also received the letter Wednesday.

DHSS "will work with USDOJ to ensure Missourians receive the proper services in the most appropriate environments," said Lisa Cox, communications director.

The Justice Department aims to answer whether individuals who have been placed in skilled nursing facilities would better be served with community services, such as supported housing, community treatment, crisis services or peer support services. It also aims to determine if the state's use of guardianship — a process where a court appoints someone to make decisions for a person, such as where to live — for those with serious mental illness contributes to unnecessary placements in nursing facilities.

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In 1999, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Olmstead v. L.C. that states should "eliminate unnecessary segregation of persons with disabilities," and requires states to "ensure that persons with disabilities receive services in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs." The case came about after two women with mental illness and developmental disabilities were confined in the state-run Georgia Regional Hospital, even after mental health professionals stated they were ready to move to a community-based program.

The women filed suit under the ADA for release from the hospital. The Supreme Court ruled "that unjustified segregation of persons with disabilities constitutes discrimination in violation of title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act." ADA's Title II pertains to nondiscrimination in state and local government.

This article originally appeared on Springfield News-Leader: DOJ begins investigating whether Missouri is violating ADA