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Olmstead Decision​

Categories: Civil Rights

The “Olmstead Decision” refers to a decision issued by the United States Supreme Court on June 22, 1999, regarding the rights of individuals with disabilities to live in the community as independently as possible. The decision was brought about by a case filed by and on behalf of two women, Lois Curtis and Elaine Wilson, who were voluntarily admitted to a psychiatric unit in Georgia Regional Hospital, a state facility, due to their diagnosis of mental illness and developmental disabilities. The facility’s mental health professionals assessed that the women were ready to move to a community-based program but remained in the hospital. They filed a lawsuit under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to remedy the situation.

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 ADA. In an opinion written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Court held that public entities must provide community-based services to persons with disabilities when (1) such services are appropriate, (2) the affected persons do not oppose community-based treatment, and (3) community-based services can be reasonably accommodated, taking into account the resources available to the public entity and the needs of others who are receiving disability services from the entity.

The Court held that to comply with the ADA’s integration mandate, public entities must make reasonable accommodations to their policies, procedures, or practices when necessary to avoid such discrimination. This resulted in states convening “Olmstead” committees to develop State Plans for developing and offering community-based services in lieu of institutional or nursing level of care. Such options are viewed as a demonstration of the state’s commitment to offer individuals with disabilities a choice as to where to live.

Since the Olmstead decision was issued, Congress and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have provided a number of incentives and grants to help states rebalance their services to more equably provide community alternatives. States are still vulnerable if they do not address the community needs as there has already been a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that failing to do so constitutes discrimination and violation of the ADA.