Maine Nursing Home Residents with Disabilities Celebrate Long Awaited Move to the Community

BANGOR, Maine - The first Plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit against the Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) will move from their nursing facilities into their own apartments in Bangor early next week.

The Nov. 18 moves are the result of the settlement of the lawsuit, Van Meter, et. al. v. Mayhew, which was brought against DHHS in 2009 by three young men with cerebral palsy who have resided in nursing homes for many years. The young men wanted the opportunity to live outside the nursing facility.  In 2011, the federal court certified the case as a class action on behalf of all individuals with cerebral palsy, epilepsy, and other related conditions who are eligible to reside in nursing facilities.

Under a settlement agreement approved by the federal court in May 2012, the state agreed to create a new home and community based waiver program to allow those who formerly had no choice other than to live in nursing facilities to live in the community and still receive services they need.  Because of this new program, these Plaintiffs are now able to move into their own apartments. 

"I never thought this day would come" said Eric Reeves, one of the named Plaintiffs in this lawsuit.  "This shows that you will get what you want if you put your mind to it - I am thrilled to be getting my own apartment and to be living more independently."

Staci Converse, an attorney with the Disability Rights Center, who represented the plaintiffs in this case, said, "By bringing this case, these plaintiffs opened the doors for so many others, so it's fitting that they will now open the doors to their own homes."  

"This is what our clients have been seeking since they filed the lawsuit - to live in the community, as citizens, and among their peers," said Jack Comart, the litigation director for Maine Equal Justice Partners, which helped to bring the suit. "We are overjoyed this day is finally here."

"Throughout my 30 years working with clients with disabilities, I have seen too many abuses and neglect in the system," notes lead counsel, Jeffrey Neil Young, attorney at McTeague Higbee.  "That makes moments like these where we are able to make sure the system works as it should for these young men that much more meaningful." 

Sarah Somers of the National Health Law Program who served as co-counsel in the case, said "Having worked on a number of similar cases around the country, it is encouraging to see that Maine recognizes the important legal obligation to ensure that people with disabilities have the opportunity to live in the community, instead of nursing facilities."  

About the Disability Rights Center (DRC) The DRC is Maine's protection and advocacy agency for people with disabilities. It is a non-profit agency independent of state and federal government. Its mission is to enhance and promote the equality, self-determination, independence, productivity, integration, and inclusion of people with disabilities through education, strategic advocacy and legal intervention.  For more information, call 1-800-452-1948 (V/TTY) or visit www.drcme.org.

About Maine Equal Justice Partners (MEJP) MEJP, formed in 1996, provides free legal representation to people with low income before administrative agencies, in state and federal courts, and before the Maine Legislature. MEJP is dedicated to advocating on behalf of and with low-income people on the issues that affect their daily lives - access to adequate health care, food and income supports, and higher education and training opportunities.  For more information, call 207-626-7058 or visit www.mejp.org

About McTeague, Higbee, Case, Cohen, Whitney & Toker, P.A MCTEAGUE HIGBEE is Maine's largest law firm exclusively dedicated to the representation of Maine workers and the civil rights of individuals in Maine and (in partnership with other firms) around the country.  McTeague Higbee and Jeffrey Neil Young, the lead counsel in this case, have brought a number of successful class, collective, and mass actions on behalf of workers and disadvantaged citizens.  The firm has a particular focus on disability law.  For more information, call 207-725-5581 or visit www.me-law.com.

About the National Health Law Program

Founded in 1969, the National Health Law Program (NHeLP) protects and advances the health rights of low-income and underserved individuals and families. The oldest nonprofit of its kind, NHeLP advocates, educates and litigates at the federal and state levels.  For more information, call 202-289-7661 or visit www.healthlaw.org.

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