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Parents' fight for disabled son's care could impact others

Posted February 16, 2011
Updated February 17, 2011

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— One family’s battle against the state of North Carolina to get the best care for their disabled son has been described as a David vs. Goliath court case – one that will likely have a far-reaching impact.

Jonathan McCrann walks with a limp and has little use of his left hand. His communication skills are also limited. The 28-year-old is mentally retarded, has cerebral palsy and autism and is legally blind, according to his parents.

“Days after he was born, doctors came to our room and said, ‘We think you should put him in an institution,’” said Kelly McCrann, his mother.

“I just said, ‘We’re not putting this kid in an institution,’” added his father, Mike McCrann.

Growing up, Jonathan McCrann needed assistance with everything, and the state helped pay for his care. His parents said they witnessed an incredible transformation in their son at age 13 when Edna McNeil became his caregiver.

“He just crawled out of the dark,” Mike McCrann said. “He was functioning.”

Their son was able to brush his teeth, get dressed, open car doors and buckle his seat belt, according to his parents.

Parents battle state for disabled son's care Parents battle state for disabled son's care

To help prepare their son for the day they are no longer around, the McCranns made the tough decision to place him in a nearby group home when he was 21. McNeil continued to work with him five days a week.

Then, in 2006, the state changed its policy and determined that only someone who worked with the group home could provide Jonathan McCrann’s services, meaning McNeil was out.

“(It) made no sense whatsoever. It was mean-spirited,” Mike McCrann said.

The McCranns took the state to court, a challenge their attorney, Jim Conner, described as “a case of David vs. Goliath.” Conner said the state’s decision was a clear violation of patients’ rights.

“(The state) conceded he needed the services. They conceded it wasn’t a financial issue. This is not a budget issue,” Conner said.

The courts determined the rule change was arbitrary, capricious and erroneous, and the state Department of Health and Human Services lost both of its appeals.

“I haven’t seen a case of bureaucratic arrogance that rivals this one,” Conner said, adding that he believes the judge’s ruling could affect thousands of people statewide.

Vicki Smith, executive director of Disability Rights North Carolina, said she blames the state Department of Health and Human Services for taking knee-jerk actions for years without considering the big picture and long-term consequences.

“I think (this case) has huge significance,” she said. “We’re certainly looking at this decision as a tool in our toolbox to challenge decisions that are made.

State Department of Health and Human Services’ officials would not speak on camera, but released a statement saying, "We are reviewing the ruling, but since there is still a potential for litigation, we can not offer further details on the case at this time.”

“I don’t know that it’s sinister or what it is, but it’s obvious from our experience that they don’t care about the people they’re serving,” said Mike McCrann.

The McCranns paid McNeil to care for their son while the case was tied up in the courts, but a judge will soon determine how much they should be reimbursed. McNeil has been working with Jonathan McCrann for 15 years.

The McCranns said they feel like their son is safe now.

Their case could impact how the state deals with the upcoming budget shortfall. Legal experts say the court’s ruling will force the Department of Health and Human Services to take much more time to make changes to certain programs and services.


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  • JustOneGodLessThanU Feb 21, 2011

    affirmativediversity, if someone wants to do something with their own body, it should be none of YOUR business. I know you’re one of those folks who like to SAY that they’re for “less gubmint”...but your comments show the truth. You want to impose your “morals” on every woman’s uterus...and use big government to do it.

    If someone “loses their job while expecting a child” and they think they can no longer afford to bring this kid into the world...are you really, really? prepared to *force them* to give birth...and subject them and their infant to, what they know, will be poverty...where you can continue to deny them food stamps, welfare, etc.?

    Do you really think that you should be able to dictate other women’s wombs? Can you give me an example of something that is MORE government intrusion than sex and child bearing? Oh yeah, 1 penny increase in sales tax...that’s probably worse than forcing a woman to give birth and raise a child. Sorry, my bad. ;-)

  • soyousay Feb 18, 2011

    There is not enough money, and you don't want to raise taxes to support it. Perhaps you would like a cafeteria plan or you can have little committees to decide who is deserving and who is not. You are all for cutting prorgams for those other people, but this hits a little close, doesn't it, and gosh they look like such nice people. No one asks for a sick child, dying spouse or infirm parent, but the current climate is such that there will be no relief and families will have to shoulder it, quit jobs and make do--- even the erstwhile members of the tea party

  • wildcat Feb 17, 2011

    Some of use need to ask yourself: what if this was my son and what would I want for him in handling his care? Think!

  • affirmativediversity Feb 17, 2011

    I wonder, all those people who think this couple should have sought an abortion...

    Do you also think that if someone loses their job while expecting a child they should seek an abortion too...after all, chances are Taxpayers will have to pay for that child too?

  • affirmativediversity Feb 17, 2011

    "Butner has a program for him. if they can not afford private home care, Butner is the alternative we as tax payers offer. Don't like it, move to another state or country" per mrcrosbys


    WOW! Thanks Mr. Scrooge for that insightful opinion.

    Are there no workhouses? Have we no debtor prisons?

  • blytle Feb 17, 2011

    It is so sad to read some of these comments. You are talking about a human being!!! Perhaps he can't do all of the things that you can, but he is a living and feeling being who deserves your respect!

  • grassroots Feb 17, 2011

    It still astounds me how many comments I read from very uninformed people. "Butner has a program for him." You are either referring to Murdoch or Central Regional. As an ICF/MR, Murdoch's rate is ~$5800/mo. CRH is a psych facility so does not apply, though based on their per diem, their rate would be at least 3X that of an ICF. Community care is often a more affordable for everyone except the family who pays nothing if institutional care is secured. Aside from $, ICF is not an option for most people. It's a last resort, is very diff. to get approved and even if approved is diff. to find a vacancy. I won't even mention individual choice, preference, quality of life, relationships or other factors that should be considered when determining best care because you have already made it abundantly clear that those things do not matter to you.

    So just speaking on availability and financial consideration, as a tax payer you should probably be interested in alternatives other than Butner.

  • JoCoFootballMom Feb 17, 2011

    "If having a child like this was a surprise, then I could see them getting assistance, BUT if they knew prior to his birth that he was going to be mentally handicapped and in need of care all the time, then the Parents who brought him into the world should pay for everything. They made the choice if that is the case."

    Are you freakin kidding...you mean to tell me that if you or your wife(I don't know what you are)carried a baby for months and then found out that it may be handicapped, that you would choose to get rid of it for that reason. Some people in this world truly SUCK!!!

  • mrcrosbys Feb 17, 2011

    Butner has a program for him. if they can not afford private home care, Butner is the alternative we as tax payers offer. Don't like it, move to another state or country

  • mrcrosbys Feb 17, 2011

    tropicalgirl - Thank you for your comments. I gained insight from what you wrote. I wish others would

    Actually, I could not agree less. it is not society's reponsiblity to take care of anyone, unless you live in a socialist society. this is a capitalistic society which means I don't and never will give a rats behind for anyone else. That is what makes capitlaism so great