9 Investigates feds suing Florida over care of disabled children

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ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. —

9 Investigates exposed a system in which disabled children were forced to live in nursing homes with the elderly.

Now the federal government is suing Florida over that issue.

The suit claims that there are as many as 200 children not getting the care they need.

According to the filing, it's more than just not getting what they need. The Department of Justice accuses the state of "acting with deliberate indifference to the suffering of frail and severely disabled children."

It added that Florida has set up a system designed to deny care until parents are left with no other choice but to send their children away.

The DOJ filed its lawsuit Monday, citing the Americans with Disabilities Act. The department said Florida has been essentially warehousing disabled children, forcing many to live in adult nursing homes with little to no interaction.

According to the lawsuit, the state has been reducing in-home care, with the end goal of eliminating it.

The plan leaves parents with two options: care for the child at home, without medical assistance, or place the child in a care facility.

Adding to the problem, Florida has not changed its Medicaid home health reimbursement rate since 1987.

Parents say the system is designed to force children away from care, or into an adult nursing facility.

"(My daughter) would not survive. She might last between two days and two weeks, that's it," said Karen Wallen. "(I) think the state has a responsibility to help the parents that want their children to be home."

Many of the children who could use at-home services have been on a waiting list for half a decade.

Making matters worse, the state reduced its funding for those services by $6 million in 2010.

State officials have not commented on the lawsuit.

If the suit is successful, the state will be forced to fully fund the system and pay damages to many of the children.