Tuesday, October 19, 2010

State, Justice Department Reach Agreement on Mental Health Plan

Agreement avoids direct federal control, lays out measurable benchmarks

Governor Sonny Perdue today announced that the State of Georgia and the US Department of Justice (DOJ) have reached a settlement agreement that avoids direct federal control of the state’s services for people with developmental disabilities and mental illness and adds concrete goals to Georgia’s current plans to expand services in communities. Under the agreement, the state will stop admitting people whose primary diagnosis is a developmental disability into state hospitals by July 2011 and instead place them directly into community services. By July 2015 it will attempt to place any who remain in state hospitals into community services as well. The agreement also provides for expanded community-based services for approximately 9,000 individuals with mental illness. The new agreement lays aside a DOJ lawsuit brought earlier this year under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“We’re happy that, after long and frequent negotiations, we now have an agreement with measurable goals that preserves Georgia’s ability to make decisions on how best to serve Georgians,” said Governor Perdue. “I have always said the state needed to provide better services to our most vulnerable citizens, and the Department of Justice has played a helpful role in spurring change in Georgia. I am confident we finally have an agreement that moves us towards our common goals of recovery and independence for people with mental illness and developmental disabilities”

The new agreement is part of a series of actions that have sought to reform Georgia’s behavioral health and developmental disability services. In its 1999 Olmstead decision, the US Supreme Court found that people with mental illness and developmental disabilities in Georgia and other states have a right to receive services in community settings instead of being segregated into state hospitals. The new settlement agreement furthers the State’s commitment to comply with the Olmstead agreement, replacing and expanding upon an existing voluntary compliance agreement that was entered into in 2008. It reaffirms, and does not replace, a separate agreement that seeks to improve the safety and effectiveness of the state’s psychiatric hospitals.

“The staff members at our hospitals and regional offices have worked long and hard to make the people we serve safer,” said Dr. Frank Shelp, Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD). “This agreement would not have been possible without their dedication, and it’s that commitment to the people we serve that will make it a success.” In 2009, Governor Perdue and the Georgia General Assembly created DBHDD to focus solely on policies and programs for people with mental illness, developmental disabilities, and substance use disorders. In its first year of operations, the agency improved the safety and effectiveness of the seven state hospitals, expanded community-based services, built innovative partnerships with several medical schools in Georgia, and forged strong alliances with Georgia advocacy and consumer groups.
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