Today We Celebrate 23 Years of the Olmstead Decision
Twenty-three years ago today on June 22, 1999, the United States Supreme Court held in Olmstead v. L.C. that "unjustified segregation of persons with disabilities constitutes discrimination in violation of title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act” (https://www.ada.gov/olmstead/olmstead_about.htm) and that government entities must “administer services, programs, and activities in the most integrated setting appropriate to the needs of qualified individuals with disabilities.” (28 C.F.R. § 35.130(d))
The Olmstead decision is arguably the most important Supreme Court Decision impacting people with disabilities. Under the Olmstead integration mandate, some, but not nearly enough people with disabilities have been freed from institutions.
People with disabilities are more likely to be institutionalized during disasters (https://ncd.gov/publications/2019/preserving-our-freedom). Although the holding in Olmstead makes it clear that there is the right to integration of disabled people in the community, we know it is not enough. Especially when disasters strike, the Olmstead mandate is forgotten and people with disabilities are institutionalized as a result. The mandate is consistently disregarded by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) which issues the 1135 waiver in Presidentially declared disasters. The waiver permits suspending mandatory three-day hospitalization stays that are typically required before referral to a long-term care facility. This waiver allows disabled people to be placed directly into institutions, where they get separated from families, get sicker, and all too frequently, die.
As disability rights advocates make desperately needed calls to action for full implementation of Olmstead, we must call for integration of people with disabilities who have been consigned to institutions, including nursing facilities before, during, and after disasters and emergencies.