Some Medicaid-funded assisted living communities in New York state and elsewhere in the U.S. are violating federal discrimination laws by denying admission to residents in wheelchairs, a recently filed lawsuit claims.
The charges are being brought by the Fair Housing Justice Center, a fair housing and civil rights organization headquartered in Long Island City, New York.
“People were being threatened with eviction, or actually evicted, for even part-time use of a wheelchair,” Fred Freiberg, director of the Fair Housing Justice Center, told The New York Times.
Earlier this month, the nonprofit filed a federal lawsuit alleging that four New York assisted living communities are discriminating against individuals who use wheelchairs, as well as violating federal laws including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Fair Housing Act (FHA).
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, New York State Department of Health Commissioner Howard Zucker and the New York State Department of Health are also named in the lawsuit.
Specifically, the lawsuit requests that the four communities—Elm York Assisted Living, Madison York Assisted Living, Madison York Home for Adults and VillageCare—implement nondiscriminatory admission and retention policies, and that New York revise its regulations to reflect federal law. The lawsuit also seeks monitoring and training to guarantee compliance.
Some assisted living communities cite ambiguous state laws when they deny admission to residents who use wheelchairs, or who are otherwise nonambulatory, Susan Silverstein, a senior lawyer for the AARP Foundation, which is representing the plaintiffs, told the Times.
“Many states have similar policies, though with different language, like ‘must be able to self-evacuate,’ which is often interpreted to mean ‘no wheelchairs,’” Silverstein explained.
The four facilities named in the lawsuit all are Medicaid-funded, but private-pay operators could be affected by the result of the lawsuit as well.
“Private-pay assisted living is still subject to the Fair Housing Act,” Jota Borgmann, senior staff lawyer at legal services organization Mobilization for Justice and co-counsel in the case, told The New York Times.
Written by Mary Kate Nelson