MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Today, the ACLU of Alabama urged Governor Ivey to implement policies, during the COVID-19 pandemic, that will protect residents of congregate facilities for seniors and people with disabilities, along with the workers who care for them. Alabama Arise, Disability Rights and Resources, and the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program joined the ACLU’s letter to the Governor.
The COVID-19 pandemic revealed what many disability rights advocates have long known: institutions like nursing homes are dangerous and unhealthy for residents and staff. Nationally, more than 50,000 residents and workers in nursing homes have died, including at least 525 in Alabama. Given that Governor Ivey and state agencies oversee many of these facilities, she can take steps to protect residents in congregate facilities, reduce the number of people in these facilities, and support the workers who care for people with disabilities.
“Thirty years after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Alabama remains reluctant to extend vital support to people with disabilities in nursing homes and other congregate facilities such as assisted living facilities, psychiatric hospitals, and group homes,” said Randall C. Marshall, executive director of the ACLU of Alabama. “As the COVID-19 crisis worsens, the State should take advantage of Medicaid programs that move people with disabilities into communities and out of institutions. And not only must we protect the essential workers in these facilities from COVID-19, but also compensate them for the risks they take every day to care for those we love. PPE is not enough; workers in congregate care facilities must have access to paid leave and overtime.”
“Alabama Arise has long supported the expansion of home- and community-based services in Medicaid long-term care, and the COVID-19 crisis only strengthens that commitment,” said Robyn Hyden, executive director of Alabama Arise. “Alabama’s new Integrated Care Network offers a clear path for giving seniors and people with disabilities more choice in their care, while reducing the state’s reliance on institutional care settings. The emergency measures Medicaid has taken thus far are promising, but gaps remain. Rigorous, timely and accessible data, for example, could help patients, caregivers, policymakers and the general public better understand the COVID threat and respond more effectively. It’s time to use every tool available to protect vulnerable Alabamians’ health and their rights.”
“Sadly, it has taken a pandemic for all Americans to fully understand what Centers for Independent Living have been saying for over 40 years—life in the community with proper supports is safer than living in an institution, and therefore, should be a right,” said Dan Kessler, executive director of Disability Rights and Resources. “Such a right does not yet exist in Alabama. Let’s change that this year for the 55th Anniversary of Medicaid.”
The full letter is available online here: https://www.aclualabama.org/sites/default/files/field_documents/alabama_covid_disability_letter_final.pdf