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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Georgia to move many patients with mental illness out of psychiatric hospitals

    ATLANTA — In a settlement that will serve as a model for enforcing the rights of the disabled, the U.S. Justice Department reached an agreement with Georgia to move many patients with mental illnesses and developmental disabilities out of the state’s notoriously dangerous psychiatric hospitals and into the community.

    The agreement, announced Tuesday, resolves a Justice Department lawsuit brought in January under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

    It also caps a federal investigation that was launched after more than 100 suspicious deaths of state mental hospital patients were documented over a five-year period in a 2007 series in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

    The federal probe confirmed an “”alarming frequency”” of preventable deaths, suicides and assaults in the hospitals.

    As part of the agreement, Georgia will stop admitting all people with developmental disabilities, such as Down syndrome and autism, into its state hospitals by July 1, 2011. The state will move all developmentally disabled patients from state hospitals to “”community settings”” by July 1, 2015.

    The state must also expand community-based services for approximately 9,000 mentally ill patients.

    “”This is a monumental step forward for people with mental illness,”” said C. Talley Wells, attorney with Atlanta Legal Aid, one of a number of advocacy groups who worked with the Justice Department in a friend-of-the-court status. “”No longer will people be confined in a state hospital who could be living much fuller lives in the community.””

    Georgia officials were pleased to avoid direct federal control of its mental health services. In a statement, Gov. Sonny Perdue said the agreement “”preserves Georgia’s ability to make decisions on how best to serve Georgians.””

    Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division, said Tuesday that the settlement would serve as a “”template”” for nationwide enforcement of the principles laid out in a landmark Supreme Court disability rights case from 1999, Olmstead v. L.C.

    That case, Perez said, “”was hailed as the Brown v. Board of Education of the disability rights movement — a recognition that unnecessarily segregating people with disabilities in institutions can be just as destructive as segregating children in schools.””

    Ron Honberg, legal director for the National Alliance on Mental Illness — another group that intervened as a friend of the court — said state governments are in different stages of moving away from a reliance on big mental institutions, which, since about the mid-20th century, have increasingly fallen out of favor among advocates for the disabled. But “”deinstitutionalization”” also has critics, who say it leads to homelessness.

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