Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Massachusetts Woman moves into house after escaping nursing home ‘prison’

Taunton, Massachusetts — Cathy Hutchinson suffered a brainstem stroke, leaving her mute, quadriplegic and in a nursing home. She had no control over any of this.
Now, after she acted as the lead plaintiff in a class action lawsuit against the state, Hutchinson has changed the system for herself and others with brain injuries.
Hutchinson, along with 86 others, has been approved to move from a Massachusetts nursing home and into the community as a result of the settlement, which was filed in May 2007 and approved a year later.
On Friday afternoon, Hutchinson, an Attleboro native, left the confines of a nursing home and went into an integrated community setting on South Precinct Street in Taunton.
“Thank you,” Hutchinson said, communicating using her eyes, with an assistant holding up a board featuring the alphabet. “This is wonderful.”
A smiling Hutchinson was swarmed by a cadre of photographers and reporters, who documented her arrival at house. Hutchinson had spent more than a decade in a nursing home, a setting she described as a “prison.”
Hutchinson suffered a stroke while gardening about 15 years ago, and collapsed in her Attleboro home. She was paralyzed from the neck down, and was taken to a nursing home, with Medicaid helping to cover costs.
"I feel isolated from the real world,” Hutchinson has said, about living in a nursing home. “I have little to no privacy. I don't want to live this way, and I can't think of anyone else who would.”
Hutchinson v. Patrick argued that the state was violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by failing to provide adequate community services, in the form of community integrated assisted living. The settlement agreement involves the creation of two Medicaid home and community-based waivers, along with the transition of 300 class members — selected through a lottery — from nursing homes to integrated community living over the next eight years.
While taking strides for those with brain injuries through the lawsuit, Hutchinson, 58, has also been on the cutting edge of technology designed for the disabled.
In November 2008, Hutchinson was featured on news program 60 Minutes, demonstrating the use of a system called BrainGate. Hutchinson was one of the first people to be outfitted with a plug in her head, actually connecting her brain with a computer, allowing her to command a mouse with her mind.
Hutchinson has since stopped experimenting with BrainGate, but continues to communicate nevertheless. Either through an alphabetical pad — training her eyes on a letter, shaking her head in the affirmative when an aid points to the right one — or by using a computer device, Hutchinson spells out everything on her mind.
To get around, Hutchinson uses eye glasses that are rigged electronically to her wheelchair, giving her power to navigate. The glasses also work with her computer, alowing her to direct a mousing with the position of her head.
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