Deal clears way for people with brain injuries to live in community
Thousands of people with brain injuries may soon be able to move out of nursing homes and other institutions under a first-of-its-kind settlement filed Monday between the state and a group representing people with brain injuries.
The settlement resolves a class action lawsuit filed more than a year ago by the Brain Injury Association of Massachusetts in Westborough, which charged the state with violating federal law by not providing community-based services to people with brain injuries.
The lack of such services means people who would prefer to live independently cannot, and in some cases are housed in nursing homes and other institutions.
About 8,000 people with brain injuries now live in nursing homes and rehabilitative facilities, according to the association. At least a quarter of them, or about 2,000 people, could transition to living in the community, if the state provided adequate service.
The settlement, association Executive Director Arlene Korab said, will do just that.
"We're all satisfied this is going to be moving almost 2,000 people, over the next eight years, out of nursing facilities and into the community,'' she said. "To me, it's just remarkable. We were able to sit down as a group ... and go through the issues one at a time and come up with agreements that were satisfactory to all parties.''
Officials from the state Department of Health and Human Services could not be reached for comment on the settlement.
The settlement, however, doesn't mean those with brain injuries should begin packing their bags.
While attorneys for the association hope the deal will be approved by a judge by the end of July, Korab said the first step in the process will be an educational one.
"There will be a huge educational process, through nursing facilities, to make everyone aware this is going to be happening,'' she said.
People with brain injuries who want to leave those institutional settings, she said, will then undergo a clinical assessment to determine whether they can safely move into a community setting.
Those who are able to could then move home and live with their parents or may move into small group homes, Korab said.
"We are certainly pleased with the results,'' said Kathryn Rucker, a staff attorney for the Center for Public Representation, a public interest law firm in Newton and Northampton which filed the suit last year.
The agreement marks the first time in the nation a brain-injury group successfully sued a state, and could pave the way for other states to follow.
"There's only been a very small number of cases specifically designed to serve individuals with acquired brain injuries,'' Rucker said. "What the agreement really does is expand the community-based service system ... that's something that's really needed to happen for a long time.''
Peter Reuell can be reached at 508-626-4428, or at firstname.lastname@example.org
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