Settlement preserve Sacramento mental disability services

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Disability Rights California and the Western Center on Law and Poverty reached a settlement with Sacramento County on January 23, requiring the county to devise a plan for providing a “continuum of care” throughout its adult outpatient system for people with mental illnesses by the end of 2012. The advocacy groups filed a class action lawsuit against the county in May 2010, along with an amicus brief from the Department of Justice, arguing that the county’s plans to cut a variety of outpatient services would force people with mental disabilities to unncessarily move into institutionalized settings, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Two months later, a judge in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California issue a preliminary injunction, blocking the plan from going into effect. “In this tough economic climate, it is good to know that a vital cornerstone of adult mental health services will remain in place,” said Sean Rashkis, an attorney with Disability Rights California, in a news release. “These services enable County residents to receive treatment while living independently in the community.” The county’s original plan would have ended its Regional Support Team programs, the county’s primary source for dealing with “low and moderate intensity clients.” Also on the chopping blocks was the county’s Transitional Community Opportunities for Recovery and Engagement program, its primary program for ensuring individuals don’t have to more restrictive, institutionalized settings. The county’s Wellness and Recovery centers, which provide counseling and group therapy services, would have lost 60 percent of their funding. The programs provide services for more than 5,000 people across the county. The original plan was part of a cost-saving measure to open mental health clinics staffed by its own employees, replacing nonprofit providers who currently provide services through contracts with the county. The settlement requires the county during the next year to consider whether to allow patients to retain their current providers, as well as whether to increase its  Wellness and Recovery centers, increase collaboration between outpatient and inpatient providers and create a 24-hour emergency hotline. Disability Rights California is part of the federally funded protection and advocacy system and a member of the National Disability Rights Network.