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A lawsuit filed by the Disability Law Center alleges Utah has failed to provide access to healthy community living options for disabled people, shepherding them instead into institutionalized care.

Rather than focusing resources on institutionalizing intellectually disabled citizens, Utah lawmakers should instead prioritize more autonomous care for those with the capacity to thrive in an assisted community living environment.

A lawsuit filed by the Disability Law Center alleges Utah has failed to provide access to healthy community living options for disabled people, shepherding them instead into institutionalized care. State lawmakers should view this as a welcomed opportunity to scrutinize the long-term support offered to disabled Utahns, and to make reforms as necessary. Above all, the priority should be providing compassionate, comprehensive care to more fully enable citizens who rely on the state for assistance.

The lawsuit highlights the needs of two specific plaintiffs who argue they have had virtually no pathway out of institutionalized state care and into community living settings. Staci Christensen, 29, detailed the disempowering nature of institutional care in Utah, citing how her intermediate care facility’s living arrangements forced her to adhere to strict, regimented schedules with little room for autonomy. Additionally, she was often confined for hours a day in a room with three other roommates.

Christensen’s story highlights a glaring deficiency in this approach to caring for the mentally disabled: In proving her clear capability to advocate for herself and assert her own autonomy, she underscores the state’s poor choice of relegating her to constrictive settings based on controlling the environment of the developmentally and intellectually impaired. It’s clear in this situation that such people could better thrive in a communal living setting with greater opportunities to pursue hobbies, academic studies and careers.

Her story further illuminates a dual problem in this service provision — the state has an insufficient supply of community housing, and those receiving care are uninformed about their options. Additionally, the lawsuit alleges many patients did not know that a transition program offered by Utah’s Department of Health even existed.

This lawsuit comes on the heels of a settlement reached by the Disability Law Center last June, highlighting the excessive wait times for mentally disabled Utahns seeking treatment after being charged with crimes. Both cases should send a signal to state lawmakers that it’s time to critically review current policies for caring for disabled Utahns — policies the Disability Law Center says place the Beehive State decades behind others. Utah should be on the forefront of compassionate, ennobling care for disabled citizens, not playing catchup.

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Specifically, state officials should take a second look at past decisions to expand the infrastructure for institutionalized care. The lawsuit alleges Utah approved four new care facilities over the past five years, adding 71 more beds under the state’s Medicaid plan. Instead of perpetuating an outdated system, Utah lawmakers should find appropriate ways to restructure how care is administered statewide and allocate resources to better serve the needs of those disabled citizens who would flourish in the freedom of more independent living.

This is the kind of compassionate governance residents like Christensen deserve.