Sunday, September 13, 2009

When the state threatens to institutionalize your kid

This country has come to a sorry place indeed when state government employees are so accustomed to discriminating against Americans with disabilities that they would threaten a mom with institutionalizing her child during a formal hearing. That's what happened to me on September 9, at the formal appeal hearing with Hawaii's Department of Health over cuts they are trying to make to my daughter's nursing services. In all fairness, what was specifically said, multiple times, was that children "like your daughter" don't live at home, they live in institutions where the costs are lower. The costs are lower because the children then don't require one-on-one nursing all day, they're just one of a dozen or more that a nurse covers in her rounds. Shaken, I finally asked the state employee if he was threatening to take Hannah away and institutionalize her. He said no, but continued to refer to children "like Hannah" being typically cared for in medical settings, not their family home. Hannah is medically fragile, and her brain is in status seizure for 90% of the time she's sleeping. During the day, her brain has seizure spikes almost constantly. Her diagnoses are a bunch of acronyms like CSWS, ESES, MISDs, CP, GERD, and then there's the cortical blindness and inability to eat through her mouth, all due to brain damage at or before birth. But at age 10 she walks, talks (although it's extremely difficult to understand her), uses a touchscreen computer for learning, and a recent evaluation says she's ready to learn basic sentence structure and math. The only way to make her one of a dozen kids on a nurse's rounds is to lock her in a cage so she can't move about, and hope she doesn't have a full-blown seizure and die before the next one. And doing so against my will is violating my daughter's rights as an American with disabilities, as a child on Medicaid, and as an individual with developmental disabilities participating in a state waiver program authorized under Social Security Act Title XIX, Section 1915(c). Hawaii, like many other states, has been flagrantly targeting children as well as adults with disabilities for major cuts in the services paid for by Medicaid that allow them to remain at home with their families and in their communities. This is happening in spite of the fact that the federal government has already given the states more than $28 billion that can only be spent on Medicaid, and was intended as stimulus funds to bring immediate relief to state populations. At Hannah's hearing last week, the state testified that they were allowed to make across the board cuts to Medicaid service budgets because state law said they could only pay for services as they had the state and federal funds to do so. I asked why Hawaii wasn't spending any of the $170 million they had already received as Medicaid stimulus funds to restore services, rather than insist on cutting them. (Actually I made a mistake -- the federal government has made $171 million available to Hawaii so far, but the state has only banked about $131 million of it.) The employees of the state Department of Health mumbled to each other, and responded they weren't prepared to answer the question. The state also testified that they ordered the cuts in December 2008 because if they hadn't, the Developmental Disabilities Division would have run out of funds by the end of the fiscal year (June 30, 2009). So I asked why, if they found themselves running out of money in December, they didn't simply restore the $14 million they had cut out of the FY2009 budget, which represented about 65% of the Division's total budget. Nobody had an answer for that question either. That's when I decided that we need to get our federal government to pay attention to the rampant discrimination against Americans with disabilities that is taking place. There is such a simple way to correct it -- the CMS issued a letter to the states in July 7, 2009, which let the states off the hook for cutting medicaid services in order to receive their stimulus money. Just rescind it, and make sure the states are actually spending their Medicaid stimulus funds, especially to restore previous cuts in home and community based services. Please take a look at our petition and consider signing it.


  1. Saw a link to your article and petition on Mudflats forum. I'll pass it on and urge everyone I know to sign your petition as I just did.

  2. My heart goes out to you and your daughter (she is a cutie) The only way to stop this sort of thing is to stand up and fight: like you don't have your hands full already. It is unbelievable that there is stimulus money to be had and no one is using their brains to put it to use. I'll sign and pass on this info to others as well.

  3. It speaks volumes that the state employees were not prepared to answer your questions about funds. Political expediency at its worst and positively shameful.

    I'll sign the petition.

  4. I'm sorry, I am not able to sign as I'm not a US national.


About Me

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I'm the mom of a child with disabilities. Hannah's first neurologist said she might never develop beyond the level of a 2 month old infant, and there wasn't anything I could do about it. The brain damage was just too severe. Nine years later, she walks, uses a touchscreen computer and I've just been shown she can learn to construct sentences and do simple math with the right piece of technology. Along the way, I discovered I needed to teach myself what Hannah's rights to services really were. Learning about early intervention services led to reading about IDEA and then to EPSDT. I've been waiting for the Obama administration to realize the power and potential of EPSDT for the medical rights - including the right to stay at home with their families - of children with disabilities. The health reform people talk about long term care, and the disability people talk about education and employment, but nobody is talking about EPSDT. So I am.