New Hampshire Legal Assistance

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NHLA protects mobility, independence for long-term care facility resident

Posted Nov 30, 2017

New Hampshire Legal Assistance settlement protects the mobility and independence of residents at Manchester nursing home

New Hampshire Legal Assistance recently entered into a Conciliation Agreement with Hanover Hill Healthcare Center Services on behalf of a wheelchair-bound resident who claimed his independence was taken away from him due to discriminatory practices at Hanover Hill. The discrimination included refusal to provide reasonable accommodations, by denying his request to use a motorized wheelchair.

 

Joseph White, age 88, a National Guard veteran and life-long resident of Manchester, used a manual wheelchair, but when he lost the ability to maneuver it himself, he had to wait for a busy staff person to push him around. Mr. White and his daughter Judith Ashworth requested he be allowed to use a motorized wheelchair.

 

At the time he was permitted to use the motorized wheelchair, Mr. White’s wife of 62 years was

dying in another wing of the facility. His grief, combined with the crowded hallways, led to a

few minor collisions. Staff took away the motorized chair.

 

 “I felt great, independent. But when they took away my motorized chair, it cut down my time I could go visit my wife. I had to call someone to push me and wait. It hurt,” Mr. White said.

 

Staff denied his request to resume using the motorized chair, even after an independent expert evaluated him and deemed him capable. Working with Christine Wellington of NHLA’s Fair Housing Project, Mr. White and Ms. Ashworth asserted that the denial of the wheelchair was a violation of Mr. White’s rights. NHLA filed a complaint on behalf of Mr. White to the Department of Housing and Human Urban Development (HUD) claiming discriminatory terms and conditions in housing and failure to make a reasonable accommodation for his disability. On October 2, 2017, HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity approved the conciliation agreement settling the complaint.

 

“I’m not a legal person” Ms. Ashworth said “We needed Chris, someone who believed in us, someone to fight for us. She was our voice when we weren’t being heard.”

 

“I am very pleased that we were able to obtain relief for Mr. White to greatly improve the quality of his life and also help others who are in similar situations,” Wellington said. “It is important for residents in nursing homes and their families to know that they still are protected by federal and state fair housing laws.”

 

Mr. White will be allowed to use his motorized wheel chair again after an on-site evaluation indicated that he is capable of safely operating the wheelchair. As part of the conciliation, Hanover Hill officials also agreed to undergo equal access and accommodations training as well as providing reasonable accommodations policies to residents, staff, and the public. Hanover Hill will also help sponsor a conference next spring for skilled nursing facilities; provide information about entitlements to accommodations to current residents and applicants and their families; and pay attorneys fees to NHLA. HUD has also assigned a staff member to oversee compliance with the Conciliation Agreement.

 

“The Fair Housing Act makes it clear that individuals with disabilities have a right to the reasonable accommodations they need to fully enjoy their home,” said Anna María Farías, HUD Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. “HUD will continue to work with our fair housing partners, like New Hampshire Legal Assistance, to ensure that owners and organizations that provide housing meet their obligations under the law.” 

 

The agreement presents an opportunity to develop the change Mr. White and Ms. Ashworth truly want: an environment in which current and future residents can maintain their independence and live their remaining years with dignity.

 

For more information about the spring training please contact NHLA.

 

About New Hampshire Legal Assistance (NHLA)

New Hampshire Legal Assistance is a state-wide non-profit law firm providing civil legal services to low-income and elderly New Hampshire residents who cannot afford a lawyer Typical clients are victims of domestic violence seeking safety from abuse, veterans and other people with disabilities trying to access their benefits, and people like Mr. White who have faced discriminatory policies and practices. NHLA maintains offices in Berlin, Claremont, Concord, Manchester and Portsmouth.

 

 

This work was supported by the Department of Housing and Urban Development under FHIP Grant No. FPEI161013. Any opinion, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the views of the Department of Housing and Urban Development”.