WASHINGTON – The Justice Department today moved to intervene in Lynn E. v. Lynch, a recently-filed lawsuit alleging that the state of New Hampshire fails to provide mental health services to people with disabilities in community settings in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. As a result of the state’s failures, people with mental illness who need state mental health services are forced to go to segregated institutions like the New Hampshire Hospital in Concord, N.H., and the Glencliff Home in Benton, N.H.
Under the ADA, a state cannot require people with disabilities to enter segregated facilities unnecessarily in order to get services. In April of last year, the Department of Justice notified the state that it is violating the ADA by unnecessarily institutionalizing persons with mental illness and by failing to provide necessary community-based services and supports, like crisis services and housing supports. Leadership within the state of New Hampshire has recognized that the state’s mental health system is deficient. According to a top state official, “NH’s mental health system is failing, and the consequence of these failures is being realized across the community. The impacts of the broken system are seen in the stress it is putting on local law enforcement, hospital emergency rooms, the court system and county jails, and, most importantly, in the harm under-treated mental health conditions cause NH citizens and their families.”
The state adopted a 10-year plan for improving its system, however, the state failed to implement important pieces of its plan and to put in place needed reforms to meet the needs of people with mental illness. The New Hampshire Community Mental Health Centers association recently concluded that the state had failed to meet important benchmarks within its 10-year plan and informed federal officials that the New Hampshire community system “has less capacity in January of 2012 than it had in August of 2008 when the ‘Ten-Year Plan’ called for additional investment.”
“States are obligated by the ADA to provide services to people with disabilities in appropriate, integrated settings, so that they can live and work in the community, just like people who do not have disabilities,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “People with mental illnesses in New Hampshire are currently denied this right and are instead forced to receive costly services in inappropriate settings, like state institutions, as well as local hospital emergency rooms, rather than in more therapeutic and less expensive community settings. With our efforts today to intervene, we hope to vindicate the rights of people with disabilities and prompt the state to take the necessary steps to meet their needs in more appropriate community settings.”
“Individuals with mental illness who experience a crisis in New Hampshire often spend days in local emergency rooms that are ill-equipped to address their needs, at great expense, and are then transported to the state’s psychiatric hospital, sometimes by the police,” said John P. Kacavas, U.S. Attorney for the District of New Hampshire. “This costly and traumatic process could be avoided if New Hampshire offered proven and effective services in the community to prevent and deescalate crises, help people maintain safe housing and assist them in finding and holding employment.”
For several months last year, the department engaged in talks with the state in an attempt to resolve the violations the department had identified. However, the parties were ultimately unable to come to an agreement. In order to vindicate the rights of people with disabilities under the ADA, the United States now seeks to participate in this lawsuit. The plaintiffs in the case are represented by the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, the Center for Public Representation and the New Hampshire Disabilities Rights Center.
The United States’ intervention papers and proposed complaint can be found at www.justice.gov/crt/about/spl/findsettle.php#Complaints.
For more information on the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, please visit www.justice.gov/crt.