People with mental illness who could live in the community with supports are being confined in the Glencliffe Nursing Home in northern New Hampshire against their will. The NH Mental Health Authority admits it.
They admitted last year, in a report after a year-long study by a blue-ribbon panel, that the state's mental health system is "broken." They blame the Legislature for under-funding community-based treatment, forcing them to use institutions.
They also admit that the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and the Supreme Court's “Olmstead decision” require states to enable people with disabilities to live in the “least restrictive environment.” Glencliffe Home is a long-term state institution, way up north in rural New Hampshire, a half-day's drive each way from most of the families of the residents.
The NH Disabilities Rights Center has brought a class action lawsuit in federal court (Lynn E. v. Lynch) against the state mental health authority. The Disabilities Rights Section of the U.S. Justice Department's Civil Rights Division and the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law have joined the suit against the state.
The DRC claims the state has not provided enough money to treat people properly in their communities, even though community treatment is much cheaper and less disruptive to people’s lives than long- or short-term institutionalization.
NH Hospital in Concord, the state’s short-term acute psychiatric services inpatient hospital, is also part of the case. The suit claims their admission rate is 40 percent higher than the national average, and their readmission rate is double the national average.
In 2010, more than 15 percent of NH Hospital’s patients discharged by the hospital were readmitted within 30 days, reports say. Nearly a third were readmitted within 180 days, and some patients are essentially in and out of the hospital all year.
Kevin Landrigan, Statehouse reporter for the Nashua Telegraph newspaper, filed this story February 9. 2012, the day the suit was filed:
Since the law and the facts are not disputed, the decision for the court is whether the state's unfunded 10-year plan to release those people to the community is sufficient response for people who have already been confined against their will for several years.
This case has major implications for the state, and the national mental health civil rights community as well. The Glencliffe case could determine how much lattitude the federal courts will allow government mental health authorities when compliance with the ADA and Olmstead is inconvenient or too expensive for a county or state mental health authority.
That concerns the national mental health civil rights community. I'll be writing about it in this space as it develops.
Getting Well, Staying Well, Making Systems Well: A long-time journalist and advocate of recovery-oriented services, Ken Braiterman writes about overcoming adversity, and adverse systems of care.