California Protection and Advocacy takes on Sacramento plan for people with disabilities

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DisAbility Rights California filed a class action lawsuit against Sacramento County in May, protesting a plan to chop programs that provide services to an estimated 5,000 people with mental illnesses.

The county’s plan, originally planned to go into effect July 1, would have ended the county’s Regional Support Team programs, which provides outpatient care to 3,600 clients a year and is the county’s primary source for dealing with “low and moderate intensity clients.” It also would have eliminated the county’s Transitional Community Opportunities for Recovery and Engagement program, which provides services to 700 provide in risk of needing more restricted settings. The county’s Wellness and Recovery centers, which provide counseling and group therapy services, would have lost 60 percent of their funding.

According to the complaint, filed on behalf of five people with mental illnesses, the cuts would force thousands of patients back into institutions and are “likely to cause class members to suffer deterioration in their mental status, an increase in symptoms of their mental illness, and increased impairment in their ability to relate to others.” It also argues that the high costs of institutionalization would counteract any of the county’s expected cost savings.

The county argues that it intends to open new clinics to accommodate the patients and streamline services. However, according to the complaint, the county has “provided no details to Plaintiffs and other Medi-Cal recipients like them about what services will be provided, when they will be available or where or how they can be accessed.”

The plan allegedly would violate provisions of the Medicaid Act because it would not provide “sufficient benefits, contain reasonable standards or provide patients with sufficient notice, or provide adequate opportunity to appeal, a termination of benefits.”

A judge in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California granted a preliminary injunction against the county in June, stating that the plan would create “catastrophic harm” by violating the integration mandate of the Americans with Disabilities Act, upheld by the Supreme Court in its 1999 Olmstead decision.

The Justice Department filed an amicus brief on behalf of the plaintiffs in May. The Western Center on Law and Poverty is also assisting in the case.

Disability Rights California is part of the federally funded protection and advocacy system and a member of the National Disability Rights Network.