Sunday, November 14, 2010

Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare reaches settlement to move people with MR diagnosis from psychiatric hospitals

From The Times-Leader:

SCRANTON, Pa. -– The state Department of Public Welfare has reached a tentative settlement of a class action lawsuit that challenged the department’s practice of holding mentally retarded adults at state psychiatric hospitals.

The settlement resolves a lawsuit filed in June 2009 on behalf of 115 people with mental retardation, including two individuals from Luzerne County who are housed at state psychiatric hospitals.

The suit, filed by the Disability Rights Network in Philadelphia, alleged DPW was not doing enough to transfer mentally retarded people who are institutionalized into community-based programs that would better suit their needs. It further alleged the department had failed to adequately train staff and treat those who suffer from both mental retardation and psychiatric illnesses.

Under the settlement, DPW has agreed to seek funding from the legislature to provide community-based programs for all eligible persons by fiscal year 2012-13. If services are not provided to at least 75 percent of eligible clients by July 1, 2013, the suit could be reinstated.

Other key elements of the settlement call for DPW to assist in the creation of a statewide task force to assess services for persons with dual diagnoses of mental illness and mental retardation. The department must also provide individualized treatment plans for clients and improve training for staff who work with the mentally retarded.

In court papers, attorneys for the Disability Rights Network said they agreed to the settlement, in part because the suit had the potential to drag on for years before being resolved. The settlement will thus allow their clients to obtain services much sooner.

The settlement was preliminarily approved by U.S. District Judge Christopher C. Conner in September. A hearing to finalize the terms is scheduled for Dec. 1 in Harrisburg.