NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — A guardianship case for a Virginia woman with Down syndrome is testing the rights of adults with disabilities to choose how they live.
The Washington Post reports (http://wapo.st/12cgGZa ) that 29-year-old Margaret Jean “Jenny” Hatch has been fighting for nearly a year for the right to move in with friends who employed her at their thrift shop. Her parents want her to remain in a group home.
Hatch learned to read at the age of 6, has volunteered on Republican political campaigns and held a part-time job at the thrift shop for five years. She also has an IQ of 52 and tends to shower affection on strangers as well as friends.
The case, which will continue on July 29, has captured the attention of advocacy groups and Hampton Roads residents, who have turned the phrase “Justice for Jenny” into a mantra. For many, the legal fight is about not just who Hatch is but also whom she represents: anyone born with an intellectual disability or who ends up with one, through either age or mishap.
“There is a default assumption that people with intellectual disabilities and people with mental illness need people to make decisions for them, that they can’t, with aid, fend for themselves. Which just isn’t true,” said Jennifer Mathis of the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, one of several organizations that have expressed interest in the case to the court.
Hatch moved in with Kelly Morris and her fiance, Jim Talbert, after a family friend she was staying with lost her apartment. Hatch’s father, Richard Hatch, lives in North Carolina and told Hatch’s case manager he could not give his daughter the level of care she needed, court records show. Her mother, Julia Ross, and stepfather, Richard Ross, said in the case manager’s report that Hatch had a contentious relationship with her mother and couldn’t live in the home.
Both July Ross and Richard Hatch declined to be interviewed.
While living with Morris and Talbert in 2012, the couple learned Hatch had a better shot of receiving a Medicaid waiver, which would entitle her to in-home and community-based services, if she were homeless. So in May 2012, they convinced her to move into a group home where she stayed until August, when the Medicaid waiver was approved and she moved back in with the couple.
Two days later, the Rosses filed for guardianship. A Newport News judge placed Hatch under temporary guardianship and she has rotated between group homes and living with the Rosses.
The Rosses want the right to decide, among other things, she Hatch lives, whom she sees and what medical treatment she receives.
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Va. guardianship case tests rights of disabled