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Proposed Nursing Home for Senior Prisoners

Courant News posted an unique story recently about an issue that receives very little attention but that presents a real problem for those interested in every manner of senior care. Obviously there are different levels of assisted living facilities for seniors, from modified apartments with occasional on-site support to intense care provided at skilled nursing facilities (traditional nursing homes). But what about alternatives for seniors who are in prison?

Like the rest of the population, those individuals who are incarcerated for criminal offenses grow older as well. They eventually need the same extra care and support to get around each day as do all other elderly individuals. What arrangements are currently available to provide the support they need?

It is a tricky question that does not necessarily have easy answers.

One community is grappling with that question right now, with advocates on various sides battling over what to do. In particular, one state is proposing a prisoner-specific nursing home. The state is backing the effort which would open a home used specifically for patients with mental illnesses as well as senior prisoners. However, a lawsuit has been filed to block the facility’s opening, and the future of the home remains unclear.

Town v. State
The legal problem began when officials in the town where the facility will be located learned that three different state agencies were planning on working together to open the operation. The building already exists and the owner of the facility was on-board to open the site. However, town officials were apparently opposed to having the nursing home in their city, and they filed a lawsuit trying to block the effort.

The state argues that the move is a good one. There are individuals who need these long-term care services. In addition, financial savings will be had, as the federal Medicaid program will pay for half of the necessary long-term care. In the past, the total cost would have been borne by the state. Considering the tight financial situation of so many public bodies, cost savings are always a popular option.

The town’s argument is that the state law which allowed the transfer of prisoners to private nursing homes (passed in 2011) did not intend for the facilities to be located in private neighborhoods. In addition, the suit claims that the law allowed for transfer into facilities that were already open and operating. In this case, the facility in question was previously closed and would be open specifically for this new proposal. On top of that, the town claims in the nursing home lawsuit that the zoning laws do not allow placement of nursing home in that location. They are asking that the court declare the specific use in question illegal or require that local approval be had before the state moves forward.

There are a variety of other legal issues to be played out as well. For example, it is unclear if the facility will begin operations while the suit is ongoing. Also, the state may attempt to end the effort right off the bat by claiming that its sovereign immunity privileges apply to this case. It will be interesting to see how this unique legal disagreement plays out and if similar issues affect other states and towns throughout the country in the coming years.

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