Class Action Lawsuit Claims California is Failing to Provide At-Home Nursing Care for Sick Kids

More than 4,000 children have been approved for state-ordered nursing services, but many aren’t getting the help the state promised.

Families of some of the sickest children in California are taking legal action against the state. They filed a federal class action lawsuit on Thursday, which challenges California’s failure to deliver what it promised.

More than 4,000 medically-fragile kids have been approved by the state for in-home nursing care paid for by Medi-Cal. But many children aren’t getting any help. Now some parents have decided enough is enough.

The parents of a 7-year-old girl and 5-year-old boy filed the lawsuit. According to the complaint, the children “cannot move, turn, feed, dress, bathe or otherwise take care of themselves.” They require round-the-clock care, but they are only receiving a fraction of the nursing hours promised to them by the state. Their families say California has “systemically failed to arrange for these nursing services as mandated by federal law.”

The Department of Health Care Services (DHCS), which oversees Medi-Cal, recently found that statewide, home health nurses can only provide 71 percent of the hours needed to care for sick children. The lawsuit specifically names Jennifer Kent, the director of the department.

DHCS has yet to file a formal response to the lawsuit and declined to provide comment, citing pending litigation.

The families are represented by Disability Rights California, the National Health Law Program and Western Center for Law and Poverty. William Leiner, an attorney with Disability Rights California, says the plaintiffs in the lawsuit seek nothing more than for the state to meet its legal obligation to make sure children receive the medical services the state already determined that they need.

“The state’s failure to arrange for in-home nursing also creates an enormous strain on families, which in turn can lead to job loss, broken relationships, and caregiver burnout,” Leiner said. “Some parents are forced to face the unfathomable possibility that their children may need to leave the family home to obtain needed nursing care.”

The NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit first exposed in 2016 that the nursing shortage is taking a toll. We’ve spoken to families who have had to move out of the Bay Area to find nurses, parents who have had to quit their jobs to stay home full time with their kids, and children who have been on nursing agency waiting lists for years.

Many home health care agencies say they can’t find enough nurses because most can make more money working in a hospital. Earlier this year, Governor Brown proposed a wage increase for home health nurses who work with Medi-Cal recipients.

Some advocates hope the pay bump will attract more nurses. But Leiner warns it could take months or even years to see a difference, and many families want the state to fix the problems sick and disabled children are facing today.

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