Medical Incarceration Monday: “A hospital is suing to move a quadriplegic 18-year-old to a nursing home. She says no.”
Young disabled girl dressed up for her birthday party, in a wheelchair, with party decorations in the background.

This NPR story demonstrates medical incarceration in they way disability and medical needs can be criminalized within the medical and health care systems. It revolves around Alexis Ratcliff, an 18-year-old quadriplegic who uses a ventilator, and has been living in a hospital in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, since she was 13.

She’s been sued by the hospital to vacate, after she refused to move to a nursing home in Virginia. All parties agree, a hospital is not a suitable residential setting for Alexis, but she wants to move somewhere nearby, close to her family and school.

Rachel does not want to live in the hospital or a nursing home, but due to a lack of systemic support for people with high support needs, she finds herself involuntarily confined to medical facilities. Now that she won’t comply with the residential setting being forced upon her, the hospital is criminalizing her demand to live in her own home.

“In her hospital room decorated with cards, posters and Disney memorabilia, Ratcliff speaks softly under the persistent whoosh of the ventilator, a machine that pushes oxygen into her lungs. ‘ didn’t ask to be here,’ Rachel says. ‘It wasn’t my choice. It wasn’t my decision. I didn’t want to be here. But unfortunately, I’m the one who got sued.”

This case highlights broader issues regarding the failure of states across the US to adequately address the long-term care needs of younger people with complex disabilities. This includes shedding light on the broader issue of institutionalization versus community-based care.

Despite legal obligations to support individuals with disabilities to live in their own homes instead of institutions, progress remains slow, especially for those with complex needs like Ratcliff.

Ratcliff’s journey also sheds light on the challenges individuals who rely on Medicaid and state supports to live independently face, including bureaucratic hurdles and the shortage of qualified home-care aides. The original article also explores success stories of individuals with disabilities living independently with proper support, highlighting the importance of access to in-home care services. Click here to read.