TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The federal government is suing Florida to try to force the state to stop placing disabled children in adult nursing homes.
The U.S. Department of Justice says Florida is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act because the state continues to place about 200 children with disabilities in geriatric nursing homes.
The feds want Florida to provide the necessary funding so these children get medical services in their homes or in community-based group homes.
Critics say Florida is segregating children with disabilities in nursing homes, sometimes for many years, and that violates the law.
Plaintiffs' attorney Professor Paolo Annino of Florida State University says one of his clients is a child who's been in a nursing home for 15 years since the age of 1.
He calls these kids the "hidden children" because most people don't know Florida places children in nursing homes.
The Justice Department reports the children stay in those institutions an average of three years. But Annino says it's even longer, between 10 and 16 years, based on his many years of experience.
Annino says the children are injured every day, especially infants, because they're not getting the love, care and interaction crucial to their development.
"If you don't develop that attachment, then you're going to have psychological problems and challenges and injuries the entire life of the child. So it is very important that the state immediately place these children out of those nursing homes where they're not getting that attachment."
Florida has been battling with the federal government on this issue of children in nursing homes over the past year.
Secretary of the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration Liz Dudek says her agency has been taking action to try to move children out of adult nursing homes.
She says the state has discharged or diverted 31 children from nursing homes this year.
Annino argues it's not enough. He says too many children with disabilities are sent to geriatric nursing homes or kept there unnecessarily even when they are medically stable.
"Florida can do this. It's just simply a matter of funding and vision and when I say vision, I mean the idea that it's a recognition that the law prohibits placing children in nursing homes for long-term placement and the recognition that nursing homes are not the appropriate place for a child to flourish."
Dudek calls the lawsuit "disruptive" and contends the federal government is aiming to take control of Florida's Medicaid and disability programs.