Tue., October 19, 2010 4:14pm (EDT)

Feds Settle with Ga. Over Mentally Ill Residents
By Associated Press
Updated: 4 years ago

ATLANTA  —  
Thousands of mentally ill residents will be transferred out of state-run hospitals to community environments by July 2015. (Photo by Getty Images).
Thousands of mentally ill residents will be transferred out of state-run hospitals to community environments by July 2015. (Photo by Getty Images).
The Justice Department has reached an agreement with Georgia over a long-running case involving what critics say is the unlawful segregation of residents with mental illness and developmental disabilities in state psychiatric hospitals.

Federal prosecutors said Tuesday that Georgia has agreed to stop admitting people with developmental disabilities to state hospitals by July 2011. The state also agreed to transfer the 9,000 mentally ill now living in state-run hospitals to community settings by July 2015.

U.S. Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez called it a landmark settlement that is not only morally and legally right, but also fiscally appropriate. He says the state will save millions of dollars in hospital costs.

Perez said he intends to use the settlement as a "template" for similar cases in other states.

Read the full news release below:

WASHINGTON - The Justice Department today announced that it has entered into a comprehensive settlement agreement that will transform the State of Georgia’s mental health and developmental disability system and resolve a lawsuit the United States brought against the State.  The lawsuit alleged unlawful segregation of individuals with mental illness and developmental disabilities in the State’s Psychiatric Hospitals in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Olmstead v. L.C..  

The settlement agreement, which the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia will retain jurisdiction to enforce, also supersedes a 2008 agreement between the State and the Office for Civil Rights of the United States Department of Health and Human Services concerning Georgia’s provision of community services for individuals with mental illness and developmental disabilities.  In light of today’s agreement and the progress the State has made in complying with an earlier agreement regarding the conditions in the Psychiatric Hospitals, the United States has also agreed to withdraw its motions to enforce that earlier agreement.

“The Olmstead decision strongly affirmed that people with disabilities have a right to live and receive services in the most integrated setting appropriate for them as individuals,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights.  “Under this agreement, the State of Georgia will provide services in the community, and not in state hospitals, to hundreds of people with developmental disabilities and thousands of people with mental illness.”

 “Georgia is the home of the Supreme Court’s Olmstead decision,” said Sally Quillian Yates, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia. “With this agreement, the State begins to make good on Olmstead’s promise to end the inappropriate segregation of people with disabilities in state hospitals set apart from the community.”

 In Atlanta, Ms. Yates noted that the U.S. Attorney’s Office acknowledges the significant assistance of the Georgia Advocacy Office (“GAO”), a local non-profit corporation, in the Department of Justice’s efforts to ensure that persons with developmental and mental disabilities in Georgia have access to appropriate services and care. The GAO has been designated by Georgia as the agency to implement Protection and Advocacy within the State, and participated in the litigation against the State as one of the “amici”, or a “friend of the court.”  Ms. Yates added, “Effective partnerships with local advocacy agencies is critical in the fight against civil rights discrimination. We value these relationships because they come from within the community.”

The Justice Department began its investigation in 2007.  The department found that preventable deaths, suicides, and assaults occurred with alarming frequency in the hospitals.  In January 2009, the department entered into a settlement agreement with the State of Georgia regarding conditions in the hospitals.  Further investigation found that the State also failed to serve individuals with mental illness and developmental disabilities in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs. In January 2010, the department filed a freestanding complaint under the Americans with Disabilities Act and a Motion for Immediate Relief seeking to protect individuals confined in the hospitals from continued segregation and from threats of harm to their lives, health, and safety. The Department subsequently entered into extensive settlement negotiations with Georgia, the Office for Civil Rights, and local mental health advocates.

The agreement signed today resolves the ADA lawsuit.  That agreement expands community mental health services so that Georgia can serve individuals with mental illness and developmental disabilities in the most integrated setting appropriate to those individuals’ needs. Under today’s agreement, over the next five years, Georgia will increase its Assertive Community Treatment, Intensive Case Management, case management, supported housing, and supported employment programs to serve 9000 individuals with mental illness in community settings; increase community crisis services to respond to and serve individuals in a mental health crisis without admission to a state hospital, including crisis services centers, crisis stabilization programs, mobile crisis, and crisis apartments; create at least 1000 Medicaid waivers to transition all individuals with developmental disabilities from the state hospitals to community settings; and increase crisis, respite, family, and housing support services to serve individuals with developmental disabilities in community settings.

More than a decade ago, in Olmstead v. L.C., the Supreme Court found that one of Georgia’s state hospitals was impermissibly segregating two individuals with disabilities in that hospital when they could have been served in more integrated settings.  The Supreme Court ordered states to serve individuals with disabilities in the most integrated settings appropriate to their needs.  This agreement makes the promises of the ADA and Olmstead finally a reality for individuals in Georgia with mental illness and developmental disabilities.

The Civil Rights Division enforces the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.  The ADA authorizes the Attorney General to investigate whether a State is serving individuals in the most integrated settings appropriate to their needs.  Please visit http://www.justice.gov/crt <http://www.justice.gov/crt>  to learn more about CRIPA, the ADA, and other laws enforced by the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.

The agreements in this case protecting the rights of individuals with mental illness and developmental disabilities in Georgia are due to the efforts of the following Special Litigation Section attorneys:  Judy Preston, Acting Chief; Mary Bohan, Deputy Chief; Timothy Mygatt, Special Counsel; Robert Koch, Max Lapertosa, Richard Farano, Aaron Fleisher, Jeffrey Murray, Jennifer Mondino, David Deutsch, Emily Gunston, Samantha Trepel, and Amin Aminfar, Trial Attorneys.  In addition, the Division received support and assistance from Aileen Bell-Hughes and Mina Rhee, Assistant United States Attorneys for the Northern District of Georgia.