Advocates For The Mentally Ill Sue NH
By Lynne Tuohy Associated Press / February 9, 2012
Advocates for the mentally ill filed a lawsuit against New Hampshire on Thursday, saying the state needlessly confines the disabled in mental wards because it lacks services to treat them in the community.
The plaintiffs and their lawyer, led by the Disabilities Rights Center, want a federal judge to order the state to expand community services and crisis intervention programs.
“People who are institutionalized are isolated from loved ones,” said Attorney Amy Messer, legal director of the Disabilities Rights Center. “For others who cycle in and out of New Hampshire Hospital and community hospitals around the state, their lives are marked by constant disruption and change.”
Assistant Attorney General Anne Edwards said her office is in the process of reviewing the lawsuit. “Obviously we will be defending the state’s system.”
The class-action lawsuit comes 10 months after a federal investigation found the state’s mental health system fails its citizens in need and is in crisis.
Federal investigators say the state’s mental health system relies too heavily on confining the mentally ill in the New Hampshire State Hospital and its nursing home component Glencliff Home.
“Reliance on unnecessary and expensive institutional care both violates the civil rights of people with disabilities and incurs unnecessary expense,” Assistant U.S. Attorney General Thomas Perez wrote in the April 2011 report.
Claims in the lawsuit mirror the conclusions of the federal investigation and come as no surprise to state officials who for years have acknowledged deficiencies in the system and developed a 10-year plan to address them. DHHS Commissioner Nicholas Toumpas in 2009 labeled it “a broken system.”
The Disabilities Rights Center and advocates who filed the lawsuit say the state is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by segregating the mentally ill in institutions and not providing less restrictive alternatives in the community. They say they filed the lawsuit as a last resort, after lengthy negotiations with the state failed to produce any results.
Lawyers for the mentally ill said Thursday that New Hampshire has regressed since the late 1980s, when it was lauded by the National Institute of Mental Health as a leader in providing community services for the mentally ill. Messer said admissions to New Hampshire Hospital and Glencliff House in Benton have “skyrocketed” from 900 in 1989 to 2,300 in 2010.
“Once sent to Glencliff, few people ever return to their community,” Messer said. “Over the years more people have died at Glencliff than have returned to their community.”
Kenneth R. is a 65-year-old resident of Glencliff House and a named plaintiff in the lawsuit. His guardian, Jayne McCabe, said Thursday he’s been there seven years and desperately wants to leave, but there are no services in the community to help him cope with his mental illness and paraplegia.
Messer said she met Kenneth R. when she visited Glencliff House and interviewed a number of its residents. “He looked up and said, `Can you get me out of here?'”
The federal report released last April stated that the average cost of institutionalizing a mentally ill patient is $287,000 a year, compared with the $44,000 it costs to treat them in the community. Lawyers for the mentally ill say the annual cost of a bed at New Hampshire Hospital is $435,000
Advocates File Lawsuit Against NH’s Failing Mental Health Care System
Bazelon Center News Release
Concord, N.H. – February 9, 2012 – Advocates from the Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, the Disabilities Rights Center, the Center for Public Representation and Devine, Millimet & Branch, PA, filed a class-action complaint today on behalf of New Hampshire residents with serious mental illnesses who are or are at risk of being institutionalized in state-run facilities due to the state’s failure to provide community-based mental health services.
Over the last twenty years, New Hampshire has favored funding costly institutions over providing the community-based services and supports people with mental disabilities need to enjoy a full life in the community like anyone else.
“The vast majority of people with serious mental illnesses or intellectual disabilities can lead fulfilling lives in their communities, provided they have the community services and supports they need to succeed,” said Ira Burnim, legal director of the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law. “Living independently, maintaining meaningful relationships and having gainful employment should be the goal for people with mental disabilities.”
State officials have failed to provide treatment in the most integrated setting possible, say advocates, and are in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Preadmission Screening and Resident Review (PASRR) provisions of the Nursing Home Reform Act. The complaint calls for New Hampshire to expand services with proven success rates, including mobile crisis services, assertive community treatment, supportive housing and supported employment.
Advocates filed a complaint after New Hampshire failed to respond to an April 2011 finding from the United States Department of Justice that New Hampshire’s state mental health system is in violation of the ADA. In November 2010, advocates sent a letter to two of the complaint’s defendants, Commissioner Nicholas Toumpas of the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services and Administrator Erik Rivera of the New Hampshire Bureau of Behavioral Health, describing the state’s violations and seeking negotiations. The complaint was filed when negotiations reached an impasse.