LINCOLN - A federal lawsuit filed Monday alleges that Gov. Dave Heineman "set out to trample" on the constitutional rights of six people ordered out of the troubled Beatrice State Developmental Center.
The suit claims that the governor and four top state officials discriminated against six former residents by allowing care at the center to become substandard, then forcing them out. The six were among 47 people with serious health complications who were transferred out of the state institution in February.
Nebraska's chief medical officer, Dr. Joann Schaefer, ordered the transfers after an 18-year-old resident considered "medically fragile" died in January after not getting proper emergency care. State officials recently agreed to pay $600,000 to settle a wrongful death suit filed by the 18-year-old's parents. Parents and guardians of the six transferred residents filed the new lawsuit in U.S. District Court.
The lead plaintiff is Joan O'Meara of Lincoln, president of the Beatrice State Developmental Center Friends and Family Association. Other plaintiffs are: Marvin and Ruth Gerdes, Ann Thurmond, Barbara Hyde, Kathleen Seiler and Judith Botts. Those named as defendants are the governor, Schaefer, John Wyvill, the state director of developmental disability services, Ron Stegemann, former chief executive officer at the Beatrice center, and Clare Mahon, interim CEO at the center.
Kathie Osterman, spokeswoman for the state Department of Health and Human Services, which runs the Beatrice center, said state officials could not comment until they review the suit. The suit alleges that defendants "caused or permitted" the Beatrice center to deteriorate to the point it no longer met federal Medicaid care standards or complied with federal civil rights laws.
"Instead of fixing the facility to comply with Constitutional, statutory and other lawful obligations, the defendants permitted the wards' rights to be trampled upon by moving them without warning and without alternatives being provided," the suit said.
"This is tantamount to a corn farmer letting the weeds grow so he can file a crop loss claim," the suit said.
As a result of the officials' actions, the suit alleges, the six transferred residents were frightened and have regressed, deteriorating and developing health difficulties. The suit seeks general, specific and punitive damages from the state, along with attorney fees. The Beatrice center now houses 189 people with mental retardation and other developmental disabilities. Most have physical disabilities or mental illnesses as well. The center housed about 240 residents in January, before the 47 were transferred.
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