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Florida sued by U.S. government for 'segregating' disabled children

MIAMI (Reuters) - The U.S. Department of Justice on Monday sued Florida over its alleged failure to provide adequate care to disabled children, who wound up being wrongfully institutionalized in nursing home facilities.

In its complaint, alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Justice Department said nearly 200 children with disabilities and significant medical needs were "unnecessarily segregated" in nursing homes for long-term care.

The lawsuit, seeking compensatory damages for the affected children, said they could have been treated in their homes or other community-based settings, but the state failed to provide access to the necessary services to make that possible.

The Justice Department said it had met with Florida officials on numerous occasions since late last year to resolve the alleged ADA violations previously highlighted in a so-called findings letter.

But it said "serious, systemic and ongoing" violations continued in the state, due to a lack of sufficient community-based alternatives to care for disabled children in nursing facilities.

In some cases, Florida health officials had left children in nursing homes for years before the children even got the screening needed to evaluate whether they required institutional treatment, the Justice Department said.

"The ADA requires public entities to ensure that individuals with disabilities are provided services in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs," the DOJ said.

Florida officials could not be reached for immediate comment on the lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Fort Lauderdale.

(Reporting by Tom Brown; Editing by Karen Brooks and Carol Bishopric)

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