SALT LAKE CITY — The Disabled Rights Action Committee is urging people with traumatic brain injuries and physical disabilities who are unable to receive services they need outside of nursing home settings to play a role in a Department of Justice probe of the state Division of Services for People of Disabilities.

"The state is not going to dodge this legal responsibility any longer," said Jerry Costley, executive director of DRAC, at a news conference last week.

DRAC officials say Utah has violated federal law and a 1999 Supreme Court decision by forcing people to receive services in nursing homes instead of community settings or in their homes.

"No one should be in a nursing home for even one day," Costley said. "That's the law."

Cathy Garber, who has been on the state waiting list for more than 10 years, said she needs "community-based services to remain in her own home. The only alternative is going into a nursing home."

The problem is, "it really takes away one's choice to live as they wish."

Garber, of Salt Lake City, who has cerebral palsy and has been disabled since birth, said she once entered a nursing home to receive services. In order to leave the home, a nursing home employee she befriended quit her job and took her into her own home to care for her.

Garber, who has earned two bachelor degrees and is completing a graduate degree, said she would prefer to be a productive and contributing member of the community than live in a nursing home. Receiving needed services in a community-based setting would enable her to live as normal a life as possible, she said.

Ryan Griffin of Provo, who was paralyzed from the neck down after a spinal fracture sustained in a basketball game, said federal requirements to receive services are absurd.

"They wanted to put me in a nursing home for 90 days but I had already spent 5 and a half months in a rehabilitation for my needs to be met," Griffin said. Griffin said he is on a disability waiver but had to sue the state to obtain it.

He requires full-time assistance, he said. "From the neck down, I have no movement or feeling so I can't feed myself. If I have to itch my nose, I can't itch my nose. The disability waiver was the only way to get some help in order to meet my needs."

Barbara Toomer, DRAC chairwoman, said not only should the state comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Supreme Court's 1999 Olmstead decision because it is the "law of the land," the state could save money by providing community alternatives to nursing homes.

In the Olmstead case, the high court held that it is illegal for states to unnecessarily segregate individuals with disabilities in institutional settings such as nursing homes.

Alan Ormsby, director of the state Division of Services for People with Disabilities, said the Department of Justice has been requesting information from the state since early December.

While Ormsby shares the frustration of clients and advocates, state funding has been extremely tight in recent years. The state made significant progress in funding the DSPD waiting list in 2007 and 2008 but the effort stalled when the recession has forced state agencies to freeze or pare back their budgets. "The state of Utah, unfortunately, has not increased funding for waivers" under current budgetary conditions, Ormsby said.

The state draws down about 70 cents of federal funding for every 30 cents of state funding the Utah Legislature provides, Ormsby said.

The state funds services for about 4,600 people while 1,953 are on the waiting list, Ormsby said.

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