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Legal News
N.J. Settlement Wins Release of Patients to Community Care
Psychiatric News
Volume 44 Number 17 page 1-28

Mental health advocates settled a lawsuit in July with the New Jersey Department of Human Services to release by 2014 a total of nearly 300 people in the four state-run psychiatric hospitals and to provide them with housing and treatment in community settings.

The plaintiffs, which included Disability Rights New Jersey (DRNJ) and the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, said the transfer to the noninstitutional settings would provide healthier dwellings and independence for people who had long been kept in tightly controlled environments but were capable of living in community settings given the right treatment assistance.

The agreement settled a 2005 federal lawsuit, DRNJ v. Velez, brought by the mental health advocates on behalf of about 1,000 patients deemed qualified for less restrictive, supportive housing, which also provides for medical, mental health, and assisted-living services.

Under the agreement, the state will develop 1,065 new supportive housing units and similar community settings.

The agreement could provide significant savings for the state. In research on the New Jersey mental health system, plaintiffs found that the annual cost for each resident at a state psychiatric hospital was about $220,000, while the annual cost for treatment and housing support for the same type of patient in a community setting was less than $40,000 a year.

Most important, of course, are the patients themselves, said Joe Young, executive director of DRNJ; the community services treatment approach is highly preferred by people with mental disabilities.

The settlement is similar to one Bazelon reached last year with San Francisco over its institutionalization of people deemed capable of living in supportive housing. At least four similar lawsuits are pending in other states.

All of the suits alleged that the state or local government's failure to provide community services for the patients violated their legal duty under the Americans With Disabilities Act and the U.S. Supreme Court's Olmstead decision to care for people with disabilities in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs.

"I hope it affects every community's policies over access to care with its emphasis on community housing as a much more effective remedy for people with mental illness," Andrew Penn told Psychiatric News. He is a senior staff attorney for Bazelon and worked on the case.

Further information on the settlement is posted at<www.bazelon.org/newsroom/2009/7-29-07NJPAsettles.htm#work>.

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