US Attorney: Colorado violated the law by not providing adequate services for disabled residents in nursing homes

The U.S.Justice Department has complained that Colorado violates federal law by not providing adequate services to transition people with physical disabilities out of nursing homes and back into the community.

“Unnecessary institutionalization is common in Colorado despite several programs to help adults with physical disabilities remain in, or transition back to, their own homes and communities,” reads a letter sent to Gov. Jared Polis on Thursday from the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division. 

Investigators found that there was significant interest among nursing home residents to transfer back to their communities, but many were unaware of services available to do so.

From 2013 to 2019, only 269 Coloradans with physical disabilities transitioned from nursing facilities to the community, according to a multi-year review by the Justice Department.

Transitioning people out of nursing homes is especially important, the Justice Department said, in light of the danger COVID-19 presented in these settings. A CPR News investigation last year found that at one point Colorado led the nation in the nursing home death rate.

The Justice Department said Colorado officials cooperated with the investigation, which was launched in 2018 in response to several complaints. The agency recommends, among other things, that the state expand transition services and inform individuals of alternatives to nursing homes. 

“For some, what begins as a brief rehabilitative stay in a facility becomes indefinite when they are unable to access the support they need to live independently,” according to the letter from the Justice Department.

Though the nursing facilities are often privately owned, the Justice Department said Colorado is still responsible for integrating the system to provide individuals a path back to home and the community.

The state must now enter into negotiations to resolve these issues, or the Justice Department said it will sue the state in federal court.

“The Governor welcomes all help including from the Department of Justice in successfully transitioning more older Coloradans from institutional settings to community-based care,” said a statement from a spokesperson for Gov. Polis. “Colorado ranks among the top of states in providing home and community-based services and supports to older people and people living with disabilities so Gov. Polis is hopeful that this development will accelerate his efforts to make Colorado the best state for older Coloradans and Coloradans with disabilities.”

Requests for comment from the state nursing home association were not immediately returned Friday afternoon.

“Older Coloradans and Coloradans with physical disabilities increasingly expect to remain at home as their support needs increase,” said U.S. Attorney Cole Finegan for the District of Colorado in a statement. “I’m hopeful this situation can be remedied so that individuals with physical disabilities are no longer isolated.”