An advocacy group for low-income people has sued the state of Washington, contending it has not done enough to provide care for profoundly sick babies, many of whom are languishing in institutions instead of being home with their parents.
The Seattle-based Northwest Justice Project filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court last week on behalf of four children and their parents. One of the children, a 10-month-old boy, lives in a Tacoma institution for so-called “medically fragile” youth.
The plaintiffs argue that the state is violating federal law by failing to provide 16 hours per day of skilled nursing care for the children so they can live safely at home. The state is required to provide such care in exchange for accepting federal Medicaid money, the lawsuit says.
As many as 200 children, maybe more, qualify for such care statewide, said Scott Crain, a Northwest Justice Project attorney representing the plaintiffs. Some of those kids are getting the skilled nursing care they need and are living at home, but others, including the plaintiffs, are not, Crain told The News Tribune.
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The Washington State Health Care Authority, which administers the program, has not done enough to recruit or retain nurses, the lawsuit alleges.
“Because of defendants’ actions and inactions, inadequate numbers of nurses participate in the Medicaid program to meet plaintiffs’ needs for skilled nursing care, resulting in the current crisis in meeting plaintiffs’ needs,” the lawsuit states. “The defendants have an obligation to ensure that plaintiffs get the medical assistance they need so that they need not live indefinitely in institutions away from their families.”
Amy Blondin is a spokeswoman for the Washington State Health Care Authority.
“We are aware of the lawsuit, and are reviewing it,” Blondin said last week. She offered no further comment.
The boy living in Tacoma, identifying by the initials A.H.R. in the lawsuit, suffers from a condition that makes his airway “extremely narrow and unstable.” He uses a tracheostomy to breathe 24 hours per day and needs constant monitoring, according to the suit.
He has been approved to receive 16 hours of skilled nursing care per day in his home, but a lack of nurses makes that impossible, so he has been relegated to an institution, the lawsuit states.
“A.H.R.’s parents prefer for him to live at home with his family and not in an institution, hospital or out-of-home placement, where they believe his quality of life is reduced,” according to the suit.
The plaintiffs want the court to order the state to provide an “adequate network of nurses” to meet the needs of A.H.R. and similarly situated children.
Crain said he’s not sure what the state would have to do to provide that network.
“It might mean paying more,” he said.