Deal in mental health housing lawsuit

Gavel

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut officials have agreed to stop housing many mentally ill people in nursing homes in a proposed settlement of an 8-year-old lawsuit involving more than 200 psychiatric patients.

Advocates for the mentally ill and officials with three state agencies signed off three weeks ago on the proposed settlement of the federal class-action lawsuit, according to court records obtained Thursday by The Associated Press. On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Alvin Thompson in Hartford scheduled a fairness hearing on the settlement for July 1.

The state Office of Protection and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities and the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law in Washington filed the lawsuit in 2006. They said hundreds of psychiatric patients in Connecticut were being forced to live in nursing homes in violation of the American with Disabilities Act and a 1999 U.S. Supreme Court ruling saying that holding mentally ill people in “unjustified isolation” violates the ADA.

The plaintiffs said when the state closed and downsized state psychiatric hospitals years ago, officials failed to develop community services for people with mental illness. As a result, they said, several thousand people with serious mental illness were moved to nursing homes where they were needlessly isolated, segregated and institutionalized.

The lawsuit was filed against officials with the state departments of Social Services, Public Health and Mental Health and Addiction Services. The suit pertained to more than 200 mentally ill patients who were housed at three nursing homes: Chelsea Place Care Center in Hartford, Bidwell Care Center in Manchester and West Rock Health Care Center in New Haven. The New Haven facility has since closed.

Messages seeking comment were left Thursday for lawyers and state officials involved in the case.

In the proposed settlement, agency officials do not admit to violating the Americans with Disabilities Act. They agreed in the deal to move mentally ill patients into community settings and provide them with services, if the patients are able to live in such locations and they agree to relocate. State officials agreed to move the eligible patients into the community within 18 months of the settlement’s approval.

Advocates for the elderly have expressed concerns for years about dangerous psychiatric patients living alongside elderly nursing home residents.

Three years before the lawsuit was filed, the practice of housing psychiatric patients at Connecticut nursing homes gained national attention when 16 people died in a Hartford nursing home after a mentally ill patient started a fire while playing with a lighter in her bed.

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