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NC judge's ruling puts state on path to ending institutionalization of people with intellectual disabilities

A gavel in a courtroom.
(Photo: Francis Twitty/ iStockPhoto.com)
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Francis Twitty/ iStockPhoto.com

A court ruling could put North Carolina on a path to ending the institutionalization of people with intellectual disabilities.

Superior Court Judge Allen Baddour ordered the state Department of Health and Human Services to stop new admissions to institutional settings by 2028. That means ensuring some people with intellectual disabilities are no longer forced to go to an institution when seeking care.

Instead, DHHS is to provide community-based services.

The case revolves around a woman named Samantha Rhoney, who was born with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

When she was 27, her at-home caretakers, funded through Medicaid, cut back service. That forced Rhony to move to an institution, away from her family.

Her parents sued the state, claiming North Carolina was violating the Persons with Disabilities Act by unnecessarily institutionalizing people with disabilities.

The judge in the case agreed, and is now ordering North Carolina to expand its at-home care network, and move thousands out of institutional settings within eight years if they prefer to live at home.

The state must also stop sending them to live in institutions -- except for short-term stays -- within six years.

Lisa Grafstein is an attorney for Disability Rights North Carolina who wants to see the state provide services that keep people close to their family and friends.

"That's good for all of us,” she said, “We all do better when we're in thriving communities. And certainly, the research has indicated that institutionalization tends to be bad for people's long-term health."

DHHS said it wants to increase community-based services, but argued it has other ways of reaching that goal. It is considering options for appeal.