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After a Lawsuit, a Place to Call Home
11/18/2013   Reported By: Jay Field

In 2009, three men with cerebral palsy sued the state of Maine for the right to live in a home of their own. The lawsuit alleged that MaineCare, the state's Medicaid program, was violating federal law by not paying for support services that would allow the men to leave nursing homes and move into more independent, community-based settings. Lawyers reached a settlement in the class action suit, which grew to include 40 plaintiffs, two years ago. Today was moving day for one of the men. Jay Field was there.

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After a Lawsuit, a Place to Call Home
Originally Aired: 11/18/2013 5:30 PM

It can take a long time to find a place to call home. A lift delivers a man in a mechanized wheelchair from the floor of a bus to the pavement below.

Bus Driver: "Have a great day in your new place, Eric."

Eric Reeves: "Yeah!"

Bus Driver: "Congratulations!"

Eric Reeves: "Thank you, Bonnie."

Eric Reeves nudges his joystick a few times and he's through the door of the single-story apartment building in Bangor. Number 104 is all the way at the end of the hall on the left.

"We did it Stacy," Reeves says.

"Yeah, we did," replies Stacy Converse, as she follows Reeves across the threshold and into his new apartment. Converse, an attorney with the Augusta-based Disability Rights Center, represented the plaintiffs in their lawsuit against the state.

Reeves has cerebral palsy. His motor skills and speech are severely limited. He's not able to take care of himself without round-the-clock help. But under the Americans With Disabilities Act, Converse says Reeves also has a right to live in a community setting that offers him as much indepedence as possible.

"In nursing facilities, typically, they are just there to provide the personal care needs and not really try to increase independence," Converse says.

The plaintiffs settled their case with the Maine Department of Health and Human Services two years ago. Since then, the state has been developing a MaineCare waiver program to help people like Reeves move into their own apartments.

Inside Unit 104, unpacked boxes fill a corner of the rectangular, one-room kitchen and living area. A photo on the fridge of Reeves and U.S. Sen. Susan Collins includes a personal note from Collins, praising Reeves courage.

"Can I come in? I have his bed!" says Mary Ellen Dunfield, with the Charlotte White Center, a social service agency. Dunfield runs this seven-unit facility for the Charlotte White Center, and is just the person Reeves has been waiting to see.

"I know I have a foam mattress," Reeves says. He worries a foam mattress is more likely to give him bed sores than one filled with air. Dunfield reassures Reeves: The foam mattress is only temporary.

"We've got thirty days to switch it out," she says, "so we've got all kinds of time."

The building is staffed by two people during the day and one at night. They're here to help Reeves with all his basic needs. But unlike a nursing home, Reeves decides when to communicate with staff and ask for help, using a customized, Skype-like system. A state-of-the-art lift, meantime, runs on a track between his bed and the bathroom a few feet away.

"You know, he's going to be living a life where the staff that he works with are going to try to promote his independence," Converse says. She says Reeves fortitude during his long legal fight will serve him well, as he makes the transition.

"You probably don't know what it's like to be a plaintiff in one of these class actions," she says. "You have your whole entire life exposed. Every medical record people look at. And Eric and Jake and Adam, who were the three main plaintiffs, did that more than the other folks. And they were always willing to do more."

"If you have the right support - and if you don't quit - you can get whatever you put your mind too," Reeves says.


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