Speaking out for People with
 Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities

Florida: Parent NON-involvement in Brown v. Bush

Parent NON-involvement in Brown v. Bush, a P&A lawsuit
By Don Stover
Stover Objectors – proposed Intervenors – Brown v. Bush

The Advocacy Center (Florida’s Protection and Advocacy (P&A) agency) and the Agency for Persons with Disabilities were two parties in Brown v. Bush, a federal lawsuit filed on March 24, 1998) (formerly Brown v. Chiles). This lawsuit resulted in the closure of the Community of Landmark. On June 16, 2004, a settlement agreement required that the state develop a plan by June 30, 2005 for the closure of Gulfcoast Center no later than July 1, 2010.

The families and guardians of Gulf Coast residents, or other Florida Developmental Service Institutions (DSI’s) were not invited to participate in negotiations. Families learned about the settlement in the Ft. Myers News-Press in July 2004. In October 2004, notices of a “fairness hearing” to consider the settlement were mailed to residents, parents and guardians. A group of Gulfcoast families and guardians – the Stover Objectors – quickly arranged for legal representation and organized opposition to the settlement agreement. By November 23, more than 200 letters were sent to the federal court in Miami. Counsel for the Stover Objectors also appeared in federal court at the Fairness hearing on December 10, 2004.

Despite the overwhelming opposition to the settlement agreement by families, the Advocacy Center, nor the state, opted to revisit the settlement terms in respect for family/guardian opposition. The federal court also rejected the families’ bid to intervene in the lawsuit, citing timeliness. The Court was apparently persuaded by the fact that the lawsuit was originally filed in 1998, disregarding the fact that the families only learned of the settlement agreement in July 2004.

Despite the fact that Families and guardians were not a party to this lawsuit and were not invited to participate in negotiations that ultimately settled the lawsuit. Instead, families and guardians were forced to arrange for private legal representation in an effort to intervene and challenge the lawsuit’s settlement terms.

As the coordinator of the Stover Objector opposition, as well as my involvement in DSI Supporters, Inc.,and Florida’s Voice on Mental Retardation, I have heard from families – many of whom are elderly – distressed about the prospect of Gulf Coast Center and other Florida DSI’s closing. Many are being pressured to sign documents relating to their loved ones’ transfers. Even some families from Tachachale DSI are receiving letters indicating this center will close.

The families’ worries about what is (and is not) available in community settings is well-founded. In September 2006, the Miami Herald and the News-Press both featured stories about community group home abuses. Although the state boasts in these articles about monthly reporting of all 1,263 group home providers, the articles detailed findings relating to rodent feces, badly soiled pillowcases, black mold, and dead roaches. These problems materialized over time; not from one month’s “monitoring” to the next. Just what does Florida’s Agency for Persons with Disabilities consider ‘monitoring?’ Is it a phone call to the group home’s owner or supervisor asking if all is OK? Although the state put one provider out of business in light of identified problems, what does the State really know about the people being “cared for” by the remaining 1,262 providers still in business?

APD has also been in the headlines for the waiting list crisis (12,000 plus people!), for not budgeting wisely, and for denying children with medically-necessary, life-sustaining, moderately priced blankets. A now-retired Gulfcoast center attorney sent out over 4,000 letters seeking guardians for DSI residents to be transferred to community settings with very little response. Florida continues to rank near the bottom of all states in its commitment to persons with disabilities.

And, just what has the Advocacy Center done to response to these crises. Families of DSI residents feel the Advocacy Center’s focus would be far better placed on ensuring that the community is safe and available for all who desire that setting – and leave alone the DSI residents, the vast majority of whom are well-served and happy in their DSI homes.

Families of DSI residents have little hope that our family members with severe and profound mental retardation will have any assurance of equal or better services in the community. We are happy with their DSI homes, where they receive expert and compassionate support for their 24/7 behaviorial, medical, recreation, social, habilitative, therapeutic, OT/PT, etc., needs. It is their home and we resent that the Advocacy Center (Florida’s P&A) worked so hard for so many years, with our taxpayer dollars, to take it way from our vulnerable loved ones – against our express opposition.