DOJ intervenes in New Hampshire mental health lawsuit

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The U.S. Department of Justice has filed an amicus brief on behalf of a trio of disability advocacy groups that recently filed a class-action lawsuit against the state of New Hampshire for illegally segregating thousands of people with mental disabilities.

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DOJ joins lawsuit

The lawsuit, filed February 9, took aim at the state’s rapid increase in admissions at the New Hampshire Hospital, its state-operated psychiatric center, from 900 annually in 1989 to 2,300 in 2010. It also criticized the state’s almost complete lack of transfers out of the hospital and recent budget cuts to community services, arguing that the moves have the effect of forcing people with mental illnesses into institutionalized settings.

“States are obligated by the (Americans with Disabilities Act) to provide services to people with disabilities in appropriate, integrated settings, so that they can live and work in the community, just like people who do not have disabilities,” said Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, in a news release. “People with mental illnesses in New Hampshire are currently denied this right and are instead forced to receive costly services in inappropriate settings, like state institutions, as well as local hospital emergency rooms, rather than in more therapeutic and less expensive community settings.”

The lawsuit, filed by the Disabilities Rights Center, the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law and the Center for Public Representation, was prompted by a scathing Justice Department investigation, completed in April 2011, that found “systematic failures” in the state’s system for accommodating people with mental disabilities.

The Concord Monitor strongly criticized the state’s mental health system in a recent editorial, calling it “broken” and a “deep sense of shame.”

A conversation with Department of Justice attorney Alison Barkoff with New Hampshire Public Radio’s Dan Gorenstein discussing the lawsuit can be heard here.

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