In 1999, the Supreme Court of the United States issued a ruling in what could be considered the most influential disability rights decision since the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed in 1990. Olmstead v. L.C. was a case involving Lois Curtis (L.C.), a woman with developmental disabilities and mental health conditions who found herself admitted to and released from the State of Georgia’s mental health hospitals over 18 times between 1982 to 1995. During the series of institutionalizations, Curtis would be treated, released back into the community without appropriate supports in place, and end up having to go back into the hospital for further treatment.

During her final institutionalization at Georgia Regional Hospital, Curtis was treated and doctors determined that she was ready and able to go back to living in the community provided that she be enrolled in “specialized programs, training, and behavior management programs designed by mental retardation [sic] professionals to meet her individual needs.” However, the state did not make those supports readily available. In fact, Curtis spent years confined to the institution waiting for those supports. As a result, the Atlanta Legal Aid Society filed a lawsuit on behalf of Curtis stating that Tommy Olmstead, then commissioner of the Georgia Department of Human Resources, unjustifiably segregated Lois Curtis in the mental health hospital and violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.

On June 22, 1999, the U.S. Supreme Court sided with Curtis and ruled that persons with disabilities have a right to receive treatment in an integrated community setting. In this decision, the court further explained that “confinement in an institution severely diminishes the everyday life activities of individuals, including family relations, social contacts, work options, economic independence, educational advancement, and cultural enrichment.”

While Curtis’ case specifically involved receiving treatment outside a mental health hospital, court decisions in lawsuits filed after the monumental Olmstead v. L.C case made it clear that the ruling also applied to all government funded institutions, including nursing facilities. As a result, Georgia and other states have developed programs and services to provide community supports to people with disabilities who need different kinds of care. However, waiting lists for these programs can be lengthy and many people with disabilities still find themselves living in nursing and mental health facilities, despite having the desire and ability to be provided treatment in a home setting.

Impact of COVID-19 on Nursing Facilities

As of June 25, 2020, at least 1 out of every 7 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the State of Georgia can be linked to a licensed nursing facility or personal care home. Even more alarming, of the 2,745 tragic deaths that have directly resulted from the novel coronavirus in Georgia, over 45 percent of fatalities were nursing facility and personal care home residents. With over 34,000 people in Georgia currently living in such facilities, allowing people that are willing and able to move back home (where they can more easily practice social distancing) is more important than ever. (Source: Georgia Department of Public Health Daily Status Report and Georgia Department of Community Health Long-Term Care Facility COVID-19 Report, June 25, 2020)

Cumulative Number of COVID-19 Positive Residents (as of June 25, 2020)

If you or your constituents are seeking services for persons with disabilities or older adults in the Atlanta region, Empowerline can help. Call the 24/7 helpline at 404-463-3333 or visit today. Empowerline logo

On the Move

Thanks to the Olmstead decision, residents of nursing facilities have the right to move from institutionalized settings into their own homes. In fact, Empowerline at the Atlanta Region’s Aging & Disability Resource Connection offers two programs that help people with disabilities and older adults move back into the community: Community Transitions (formerly known as the Money Follows the Person program) and the Nursing Home Transition Program. In the last 12 months, the two programs have help 64 people move out of an institutional setting into their own homes.

Number of Individuals Transitioned out of Nursing Facilities by Empowerline

Empowerline is Here for You

If you are looking to connect with resources and services for people with disabilities and older adults in metro Atlanta, please contact Empowerline at 404-463-3333 or visit their website at