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Justice Dept. Amps Up Lawsuit Threat Over Kids In Fla. Nursing Homes

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The federal government has sent another letter to Florida health care regulators, this time threatening to sue the state “in the very near future” if it does not cooperate. The U.S. Justice Department and the state are accusing each other of not trying to resolve the issue of medically fragile children being "warehoused" in nursing homes.

Since early September, the justice department has been telling the state, having 220 children living in nursing homes violates the Americans with Disabilities Act. The department's latest letter, sent on Wednesday, says, it doesn’t appear possible to avoid a law suit “As a result of your unwillingness to meet without preconditions."

But spokeswoman for the state Agency for Health Care Administration, Michelle Dahnke, says, the state has requested specific names of the patients but none were supplied.

“Any meeting would have been more productive if we’d been able to exchange information, documents, in advance of the meeting," she said. "We certainly didn’t say we weren’t willing to meet with them. We are.”

Dahnke said, the state has also offered to provide the justice department with documents from an ongoing lawsuit against it by several of the children’s families.

Florida State University law professor Paolo Annino is representing the families in that suit.

“Children in the state of Florida are being harmed," he said. "This is not an issue of just money that we can negotiate. This is an issue of actual children who are fragile, who belong in the community, who belong with their parents, who are being segregated in these geriatric facilities."

Dahnke said, the Agency for Health Care Administration has been working to contact all the families of children who live in Florida nursing homes. Staffers from the agency are following up with many of them to offer additional information about community-based health care options. She said, the agency has also conducted its own investigation of all facilities where medically fragile children live.