July 23, 2003
A month before Cecil Little, 50, was discharged from the hospital, his mother and his sister approached a nursing home within six miles of where they live. That facility, Tangi Pines, agreed to care for Little but after learning of his HIV status, just three days before he was due to arrive, the home backed out of the agreement. Five other nearby nursing homes also revoked their agreements to provide care to him. Little is now living in a nursing home 160 miles round-trip from his family.
"Cecil Little requires help meeting his most basic needs, and discrimination based on his HIV status should not dictate where he gets those needs met," said Brian Chase, a Dallas-based Lambda Legal attorney working on the case. "What makes this case even more frustrating is that we are dealing with health care professionals here -- these are the people who should help dispel baseless fears about HIV, not perpetuate them."
In February 2003, Little suffered two consecutive strokes and brain aneurysms, leaving him on life support and in a coma for a month. He has since made great strides in his recovery. Currently, he is capable of walking with limited assistance and can communicate by gesturing with his head and hands and with limited writing and few words. He is fed through a tube and requires assistance bathing.
Gloria Rowe, Littles sister, recently has noticed his progress slipping. "He hasn't spoken since the July 4th weekend and is growing more depressed. We are one of his primary motivations for improving in his physical, occupational and speech therapy. We saw him earlier this week and as we were leaving he wrote on his chalkboard, 'Going home soon' with two eyes and a smiley mouth drawn around the o's in soon. Finding a way to get him closer to home is critical to his progress, his outlook on life and our peace of mind."
In the complaint, filed today with the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services' Office for Civil Rights, Lambda Legal argues that the nursing homes are in violation of the Federal Rehabilitation Act that prohibits facilities that receive federal funds from discriminating against people with disabilities. Since Lambda Legal believes these six nursing homes accept Medicare or Medicaid, they are bound by this law.
The five other homes are Kentwood Manor Nursing Home in Kentwood, Belle Maison Nursing Home, Heritage Manor and Hammond Nursing Home all located in Hammond as well as Heritage Manor of Franklinton.
The discrimination Little faces is a growing national problem, according to Lambda Legal. "Cecil Little's situation is heartbreaking -- but it isn't unique," said Jonathan Givner, a staff attorney in Lambda Legal's AIDS Project who is also working on the case. "As people with HIV and AIDS live longer, they have medical needs that aren't always related to HIV. The nursing homes and other facilities they turn to for help may react with fear and turn them away -- which is clearly illegal."
Last week, a similar case was settled in Pennsylvania. A 56-year-old legally blind man with AIDS filed a discrimination complaint against a personal care home that refused to admit him because the staff would be uncomfortable caring for him. The man dropped the complaint when the home offered him a room.
Lambda Legal was founded in 1973 to advance the civil rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people, and began working on behalf of people with HIV and AIDS at the onset of the epidemic in the 1980s. Lambda Legal filed the first AIDS discrimination case in the nation in 1983, and later successfully forced hospitals to treat people with HIV and pushed prescription drug companies to lower the cost of HIV and AIDS treatments. Lambda Legal's AIDS Project has won critical victories on behalf of people with HIV and AIDS to be treated equally and with dignity in employment, medical services, public accommodations, parenting and other areas of life.
For more information, contact Lisa Hardaway 212-809-8585 ext.266; pager: 888-987-1971.