Justice News

Department of Justice
Office of Public Affairs

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, January 15, 2009
Justice Department Reaches Settlement with Georgia Regarding State’s Seven Psychiatric Hospitals

WASHINGTON - The Justice Department today announced that it has reached a settlement with the State of Georgia regarding the conditions at Georgia’s seven psychiatric hospitals. The Department opened its investigation of Georgia’s psychiatric hospitals in 2007 and issued findings regarding Georgia Regional Hospital at Atlanta on May 30, 2008. The Department subsequently entered into negotiations regarding remedies the State was required to implement to correct unconstitutional conditions at all the hospitals. The other state facilities involved in today’s settlement include: Georgia Regional Hospital at Savannah, Central State Hospital in Milledgeville, Southwestern State Hospital, East Central State Hospital, West Central State Hospital, and Northwest Georgia Regional Hospital at Rome.

"When a state undertakes to care for persons with mental illness and developmental disabilities, it accepts responsibility to protect them from harm," said Grace Chung Becker, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. "The Department commends Governor Sonny Perdue, State Attorney General Thurbert Baker, and the Georgia Department of Human Resources for their willingness to work aggressively to address the conditions at these seven psychiatric hospitals. The leadership of the State in amicably resolving this matter has been paramount to today's exceptional result on behalf of the people of the State of Georgia. We are pleased that we have cooperatively achieved a settlement agreement that will benefit the lives of persons with mental health problems and developmental disabilities in Georgia’s psychiatric hospitals."

Under the terms of the settlement agreement, the State will work to ensure that patients at the seven hospitals are safe and receive the care and services necessary to meet their individualized needs. Specifically, the State has agreed to undertake a variety of measures, including improving medical and mental health care and ensuring that patients are free from undue bodily restraint. The State will also improve discharge planning and ensure that each patient is served in the most integrated setting appropriate.

Today's settlement with the State of Georgia is the result of a cooperative effort by State entities and the Justice Department to reach a settlement that will make meaningful changes to improve the care and treatment of patients at Georgia’s seven psychiatric hospitals. This Administration is firmly committed to the vigorous protection of the rights of persons with disabilities.

The Civil Rights Division is authorized to conduct investigations of public psychiatric hospitals under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA). This statute allows the federal government to identify and root out systemic abuses such as those discovered in Georgia. The Civil Rights Division has successfully resolved similar investigations in other in-patient mental health facilities in the District of Columbia, Vermont, and California, among other states. The Civil Rights Division has open investigations of mental health facilities in Delaware, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina and Oregon.

CRIPA authorizes the Attorney General to investigate conditions in certain institutions owned or operated by, or on behalf of, state or local governments. These institutions include nursing homes, residential facilities serving people with mental or other developmental disabilities, mental health facilities, jails, prisons, and juvenile justice facilities.

Copies of the settlement documents were filed today in federal court and will be available on the Justice Department Web site upon approval by a federal judge. More information about the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, and the laws it enforces, is available at http://www.usdoj.gov/crt/index.html.

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