COLUMBIA -- A federal lawsuit accuses officials at South Carolina agencies of conspiring with a nonprofit organization to stop providing daytime health services for severely disabled adults and instead send them to work at activity centers bought with taxpayer money.

The lawsuit seeks to restore -- or prevent the Department of Disabilities and Special Needs from terminating -- the adult day health services of three men ages 41, 29 and 21 identified in the lawsuit by first name only. They receive personal care, meals and nursing services during the day at private facilities, reimbursed by Medicaid, where they also can socialize with other disabled adults, according to the lawsuit.

"The support enables a family to have enough of a break and sharing of care so they can continue to work or can have the emotional stamina to provide care," said Barbara Wright, director of those private facilities, Helping Hands and Hope Bridge. "It's giving them emotional support and taking care of their physical needs as well as providing a safe environment."

The lawsuit seeks class action status for dozens of adults in Lexington and Richland counties who received letters that they no longer qualified for the services, and those across the state at risk of having their service ended.

Lois Park Mole, spokeswoman for the disabilities agency, said the type of day service offered is based on patient evaluations, as their health changes. She did not comment on the lawsuit.

The decisions run counter to the patients' doctors, according to the complaint filed last week by attorney Patricia Harrison, an advocate for the disabled.

Wright said she was notified last month that about 30 of her clients, some of whom have received the Medicaid benefit for years, were re-evaluated months earlier and no longer met the criteria for care. She said she worries about their safety and quality of care if they're moved to facilities with higher staff-to-patient ratios. She said she believes the evaluation process should be tweaked.

The lawsuit claims the defendants "acted in concert to manipulate or otherwise effect evaluations of medical necessity ... to deny needed Medicaid services and to defraud state taxpayers through the purchase and operation of WACs (work activity centers), so as to financially exploit persons who have disabilities."

It accuses the state of funneling disabled adults in Lexington and Richland counties to facilities operated by the Babcock Center, a private nonprofit the lawsuit says receives preferential treatment and incentives from the state. It says the termination of services coincides with the opening of a new Babcock center.

The lawsuit says that real estate purchase, as well as other work activity centers operated by the agency's local boards, were unnecessary because private providers were willing to provide the services in existing facilities.

The director of the center, who is named in the suit, said she wanted to review the lawsuit before commenting.