Staff Post:
Cas Shearin
Media Strategist/Senior Writer

North Carolina’s long-promised draft “Olmstead Plan” is finally here and no surprise, it’s more smoke and mirrors. An Olmstead plan is supposed to be a roadmap for a state to show how it’s going to get to an important destination: making community integration a reality for people with disabilities. This is not only a moral imperative; it is a legal requirement borne out of the US Supreme Court’s landmark Olmstead decision.

The NC Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) promised a roadmap to reverse its self-professed (and illegal) over-reliance on institutionalization. But instead of producing a roadmap toward change, DHHS has taken a selfie of the status quo.

It’s like a roadmap with no roads or markers.

Smoke and mirrors.

It is a #PlanToFail.

To be a genuine guide toward change, an Olmstead plan must have a clear destination and a way to stay on course. How can you measure progress if you don’t know where you’re going or how you are going to get there?  (You can’t.) And, if you don’t incorporate other state agencies in the plan, how could it possibly be sufficient? (It’s not.) Surely, the legally required comprehensive, meaningful plan would envision that the NC Department of Public Instruction should be a part of the plan, as well as the NC Department of Public Safety and Department of Social Services. How about the NC Department of Commerce, NC Department of Justice, and NC Housing Finance Agency, for a few examples? Other states have figured this out.

It is unfathomable why NC can’t embrace true commitment to NC’s disability community. State actors hold meetings, wring hands, gnash teeth and make promises that never come about. They will say they have good intentions, that they “mean well.” And then produce something they dare to label a plan when it’s just the status quo repackaged.

Meanwhile, people with disabilities bear the brutal, devastating impact of these good intentions. It is their lives that are being wasted, wiling away time stuck in institutions, cycling in and out of crowded emergency rooms, or begging for community services that don’t exist.  They are desperate to remain in their community and losing all hope for opportunity to live full lives in the community.

There are markers throughout NC’s systems that demonstrate disabled people are desperate for community-based services: the preventable, escalating use of involuntary commitments (IVC) against people who have languished without access to necessary services;  people spending days, weeks, even months in emergency rooms because services don’t exist in the community; 15,000 people on a waitlist to get meaningful IDD community services; children who are shipped to out-of-state institutions where they are abused and neglected because the services don’t exist in their communities.

These are just a tiny scattering of examples of NC’s broken system that affects thousands of lives every single day.

What are we waiting for?

Shouldn’t disabled people have hope for their futures? Shouldn’t they have opportunity?

This draft plan is a betrayal. It’s a betrayal of promises made that this time would be different. It’s a betrayal of the trust of those who waited two years hoping that change would come.

Gov. Roy Cooper and NC DHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen delegated this deeply important task to their staff, but they cannot delegate their responsibility to people with disabilities in NC – the thousands of children and adults who are stuck in institutions or at risk of being forced into one due to the shocking, deliberate inaction by state actors.

Yes, deliberate. There is nothing in this plan about shifting resources from institutions to the community. There is nothing in this plan about the role of all state agencies in a successful Olmstead plan. The “plan” is to keep doing what they’ve been doing. And what they’ve been doing violates the rights of people with disabilities.

Enough with the wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth. It is way past time for NC to own up to its obligations under Olmstead. People with disabilities deserve no less. They have been betrayed and put on the back burner for too long with empty promises that leave them languishing and even dying in facilities.

Gov. Cooper: We need your leadership. This draft plan is wholly unacceptable, and we expect you to empower your staff to develop a real plan, a plan that enables people with disabilities to live full lives in the communities of their choice.

Sec. Cohen: We need you to commit resources to make this happen. That means shifting resources away from institutions and into the community.

By taking these actions, Gov. Cooper and Sec. Cohen can finally show the disability community that they’re through talking the talk. No more plan to make a plan.

Leaders set the culture. Gov. Cooper and Sec. Cohen are accountable for this intolerable draft plan, but there is a window of time for them to take responsibility and direct their staff that they mean to be truly accountable to the children and adults who languish in NC’s institutions, and the thousands who risk institutionalization.

Tell Gov. Cooper and Sec. Cohen: no more smoke and mirrors. Tell Gov. Cooper and Sec. Cohen that people with disabilities in North Carolina demand a real plan and not a #PlanToFail. Tell Gov. Cooper and Sec. Cohen that disabled people deserve hope and the ability to pursue opportunity.

Read DRNC’s comments on the plan