An untitled press release appeared in my inbox this afternoon. When opened, it read:
“The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services has received notice that the US Department of Justice will investigate a complaint of alleged violations of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. The investigation was opened in response to a complaint alleging the state of North Carolina relies on institutional and inappropriate adult care homes as settings for services to individuals with mental illness. DHHS will work with the Department of Justice to provide all necessary documents and information in response to the complaint.”
What does this mean?
According to Vicky Smith at Disability Rights NC, this could be the action that breaks the log jam on chronic mental health underfunding in NC. Her organization, and others, have long argued that the state hasn’t lived up to the promises made at the start of reform – that closing state hospitals would result in savings that could be used to generate more community based services. Except, the community based services never materialized.
This isn’t just a NC problem. The state of Georgia recently settled with DoJ on similar issues, promising to spend money on community based care, rather than housing the mentally ill in state institutions.
Renee McCoy from the press office at DHHS says because of the ongoing investigation, no one will comment. She did send me the Department of Justice letter: ADA Complaint 11 17 2010 (pdf)
What’s happening in NC is similar, but not the same – what Disability Rights concluded in a report this summer was that the state has been warehousing folks with severe and persistent mental illnesses in adult care homes originally intended to house frail elderly people – sometimes with tragic results. While these folks DO need roofs over their heads, for the most part, adult care homes don’t provide any treatment, little – if any- meaningful activity or treatment services to address the ongoing mental health problems these folks have. Disability Rights also found some pretty deplorable conditions.
Vicky Smith from Disability Rights maintains that’s a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and subsequent Supreme Court decisions that say people with disabilities need to be housed in the least restrictive settings possible.
It seems DoJ agrees to the extent that they’re willing to investigate.