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Press Release: Nebraska Left Behind People with Disabilities in Pandemic

New report from advocates criticizes deadly failures by state officials

Lincoln, NE -- Disability Rights Nebraska released a report today outlining significant failures to provide for the needs of Nebraskans with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“This report documents our investigation for the last nine months, particularly focusing on congregate living facilities,” said Legal Director Tania Diaz. “We’ve surveyed facilities all across the state and scrutinized how people living in group homes, assisted living facilities and nursing homes have been affected by the pandemic. The bottom line is clear: the state of Nebraska simply left behind people with disabilities, and the impact has been fatal.”

Among other problems, Disability Rights Nebraska’s report uncovered the following gaps in care for people living in congregate facilities:

  • Basic food insecurity
  • Inability to obtain PPE
  • Critical staffing shortages
  • No information or guidance from state officials, who particularly made no plan for communicating guidance to facilities serving adults with mental illness
  • Failure to provide comprehensive testing early in the pandemic and abandonment of all in-facility baseline testing as of October
  • Ongoing inaccessibility of TestNebraska program for people with disabilities: the phone screening option has been suspended and there remains no option for people who can’t drive themselves to the test

Disability Rights Nebraska CEO Eric Evans, PhD, said “It is deeply troubling that people with disabilities were left out of the state’s COVID-19 response planning early on, despite our clear communication with state officials about the need. We find it extremely disheartening that even now, months into this pandemic, we have not seen substantial progress on the part of the state to be genuinely inclusive of all Nebraskans with disabilities. Furthermore, given the progress that has been achieved regarding vaccine development, we are gravely concerned how the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine will be able to reach Nebraskans with disabilities since TestNebraska is still not accessible for everyone.”

Evans continued, “Let’s be brutally clear, the state’s failures have had, and will continue to have, fatal consequences for Nebraska’s most vulnerable citizens. Nebraskans have the reputation of being good neighbors who care for each other. Our report illustrates clearly why state officials must immediately take all necessary measures to protect the rights of Nebraskans with disabilities.”

Nebraskans with disabilities have raised their concerns about being left behind in COVID-19 planning:

  • Meg Busing, a person with a disability living in Omaha, said “It has been very disheartening to see how our most vulnerable populations are not being respected or empathized with. We need transparency and we need caring leaders who can assist in testing and treatment and not make things even more stressful for people with disabilities in our community.”
  • Mary Angus, a person with a disability living in Omaha, said “I have so many friends with disabilities who wouldn’t be able to get to a vaccine distribution site. The same problems that have made Test Nebraska inaccessible to people who use mass transit will confront the disability community for vaccines.”
  • Kathy Hoell, Executive Director of the Nebraska Statewide Independent Living Council and a person with a disability living in Papillion, said ““I am extremely frustrated by the State’s lack of response to people living in congregate settings and people with disabilities living in the community. I’m still getting calls from people with disabilities trying to find ways they can access testing / the system if they don’t have transportation. Home tests average $120 - $150, which is prohibitive for a lot of people whose income is restricted.”

The report outlines best practices in use in other states as well as recommendations from the federal Center for Disease Control and Department of Health and Human Services that could be implemented in Nebraska.

“Disability Rights Nebraska staff will continue to reach out across the state to learn more about how the pandemic is affecting people with disabilities,” said Evans. “We hope that in the coming months, the Department of Health and Human Services will finally create plans that will keep all Nebraskans safe and healthy through the end of this pandemic.”

Download the report.

The Protection and Advocacy System for the State of Nebraska. This publication was made possible by funding support from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services - Administration for Community Living; Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration; Social Security Administration; and U.S. Department of Education. Disability Rights Nebraska is an independent 501(c)(3)non-profit organization. These contents are solely the responsibility of Disability Rights Nebraska and do not necessarily represent the official views of these funding agencies.