Government News
Pa. Patients Win Right To Community Care
Psychiatric News
Volume 39 Number 10 page 11-11

A three-judge panel of the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last month in favor of patients in a class-action lawsuit brought against the state of Pennsylvania.

Three patients, on behalf of 300 institutionalized patients at Norristown State Hospital, filed the lawsuit in 2000 alleging that the 300 could be treated in their communities, according to the April 15 AP/Virginian Pilot.

The patients contended that "the state is segregating them by keeping them in state-run hospitals, thus violating the Americans With Disabilities Act," according to the article.

The panel of judges did not order the state to act, but sent the case back to a lower court, saying that state officials should be required to outline what steps they are taking to deinstitutionalize people who do not need full-time psychiatric care.

The panel also said that the state Department of Public Welfare should develop a plan to discharge more quickly patients who are well enough to receive treatment elsewhere, such as in group homes, according to the article.

Stacey Ward, a spokesperson for the state welfare department, said that state officials agreed that some patients did not need to remain in the hospitals and that officials are developing plans to relocate them.

In related news, the Nebraska legislature voted to approve a mental health reform proposal by Gov. Mike Johann that would eventually close two state psychiatric hospitals, according to the April 7 Omaha World Herald.

The new law requires three regional psychiatric hospitals to shift patients and services to community-based facilities. The move will make the state eligible for an additional $9 million in federal Medicaid funds, the article stated.

The legislation mandates the closure of two state-run psychiatric hospitals after additional community-based mental health services are made available and 80 percent of the hospitals’ patient capacity has been discharged.

The Nebraska Health and Human Services System is mandated by the new law to organize an oversight committee and keep track of patients who are being shifted to community-based services and provide outcomes data on the patients, according to the April 4 Omaha World Herald. In addition, the state legislature’s executive board, a committee of nine senators, must approve the closure of a psychiatric hospital.

The AP/Virginian Pilot article is posted online at www.hamptonroads.com/pilotonline. The April 7 Omaha World Herald article is posted at www.omaha.com/index.php?u_pg=1642&u_sid=1058649; the April 4 article is posted at www.omaha.com/index.php?u_pg=1642&u_sid=1055846.

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