To safeguard the lives of people with disabilities and the workers who care for them, the state must step up its efforts to reduce the number of people in nursing homes and congregate facilities for people with disabilities
PHOENIX – On the heels of the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act and as Arizona grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic, the ACLU of Arizona today sent a letter to Governor Ducey urging him to institute measures that will save the lives of individuals in nursing homes and other congregate settings, as well as the essential employees that care for them.
The Arc of Arizona, Arizona Center for Disability Law, Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest, Living United for Change in Arizona, and Native American Disability Law Center joined the ACLU of Arizona in this effort.
Recent reports indicate that more than 54,000 nursing home residents and workers have died due to COVID-19 – accounting for more than 40 percent of all deaths in the United States. In Arizona, there have been at least 471 deaths of nursing home residents. To combat this public health crisis and save lives, Governor Ducey must enact protective measures and enforcement and expand data collection and transparency.
Among the recommendations:
- Reduce the number of people in nursing homes and other congregate facilities for people with disabilities by transitioning them into community life;
- Prevent abuse and neglect inside congregate settings by conducting routine, on-site monitoring, and allow advocacy organizations access, with PPE provided;
- Support direct service professionals and workers in congregate facilities by providing paid leave to workers in all settings and increase worker pay and alternative housing;
- Require the Arizona Department of Health Service's (ADHS) to report comprehensive data from facilities other than nursing homes.
"COVID-19 has devastated congregate facilities across the country and its impact has landed disproportionately on people with disabilities, women of color, and immigrants," said Victoria Lopez, advocacy and legal director for the ACLU of Arizona. "The health crisis we see playing out in these facilities is rooted in long-standing discrimination against people with disabilities and systemic racism that put the lives of Black, Indigenous, and Latinx people at great risk."
"Too many workers have been forced to choose between risking their own health and risking the loss of a paycheck or job. Arizona must do everything in its power to support healthcare workers, paid caregivers, and other essential employees who care for and assist vulnerable seniors and people with disabilities," said Tomas Robles, co-executive director for LUCHA.
Given the heightened public health hazard that these congregate settings are proving to be for residents and the workforce, reducing the number of people in nursing homes and congregate care facilities for people with disabilities is a necessary step to take to save lives. The number of people confined in the Arizona State Hospital and other inpatient facilities must also be reduced, which according to recent reporting, did not adequately prepare for COVID-19 and consequently suffered an outbreak.
"As we recognize the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, we must acknowledge that although progress has been made, people with disabilities still face enormous barriers," said Rose Daly-Rooney, legal director for the Arizona Center for Disability Law. "The staggering number of deaths occurring in nursing homes across the country is saddening – and further solidifies that more must be done to protect our most vulnerable individuals."
"All nursing home residents are people with disabilities. To control and limit COVID-19 infections and prevent deaths, Arizona's Department of Health Services must include more comprehensive data and require all congregate facilities for people with disabilities, not just nursing homes, to report data," said Jon Meyers, executive director for The Arc of Arizona. "Concealing this data denies the public the full scope of the problem and hinders the ability to mitigate this virus and protect seniors and people with disabilities."
"In Maricopa County, Indigenous people are hospitalized at more than twice the rate of any other group. While the state has taken commendable steps to curb the spread of the virus, the danger of congregate settings remains. When coupled with the unwarranted assumptions that people with disabilities are unworthy of our resources and attention, it can lead to deadly consequences," said Therese E. Yanan, executive director of the Native American Disability Law Center.
The letter can be found here: https://www.acluaz.org/sites/default/files/7-29-2020_long_term_care_letter_to_gov._ducey.pdf.