Today, the Justice Department asked a federal court to dismiss the injunction to address civil rights violations at Saint Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, D.C., because the District of Columbia and the Department of Behavioral Health have significantly improved the care and treatment of persons confined to Saint Elizabeths Hospital. Saint Elizabeths is the district’s facility for treating individuals with mental health conditions. The reforms, which were implemented following requirements under a court order, have ensured that persons at Saint Elizabeths Hospital are discharged to the community with adequate supports to live in integrated settings. Further, the reforms resulted in important improvements in integrated treatment planning, psychological and psychiatric services, nursing care and protection from assault.
In 2006, the department notified the district that conditions at Saint Elizabeths Hospital violated the constitutional and federal statutory rights of individuals at the hospital. In 2007, the department and the district entered into a court enforceable settlement agreement to implement the necessary reforms. Since entering the settlement agreement, the department, with the help of a team of experts, has monitored the implementation of the reforms and provided technical assistance to facility officials.
Under the settlement agreement, district officials have made steady progress toward improving the care and treatment at Saint Elizabeths Hospital. By June 2014, the district had achieved and maintained substantial compliance with all required remedial measures by replacing a dangerous facility through the construction of a new hospital and increased clinical staff as well as reforming the discharge planning and community placement process. Further, the district lowered the population at Saint Elizabeths Hospital by nearly 50 percent. The district will continue its partnership with the local protection and advocacy group, University Legal Services, after dismissal of the lawsuit. The parties have filed a notice with the court detailing the ongoing monitoring that will be conducted by University Legal Services.
“We commend the district and the Department of Behavioral Health for their commitment to reform the clinical practices at Saint Elizabeths Hospital,” said Molly Moran, Acting Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights. “The leadership of the Department of Behavioral Health and of Saint Elizabeths Hospital have made significant and often difficult decisions to change the clinical culture at Saint Elizabeths Hospital and ensure that persons confined to hospital were appropriately discharged and integrated into the community with adequate supports. They strongly supported the required changes and provided the time, energy and resources necessary to achieve reform.”
The department initiated the investigation of Saint Elizabeths Hospital under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. These statutes give the Department of Justice authority to protect the constitutional and federal statutory rights of individuals with mental health conditions confined to mental health hospitals. Additional information about the Civil Rights Division is available on its website at www.justice.gov/crt