North Carolina has fouled up yet another opportunity for significant progress in how it treats and cares for people with mental illness. That is the conclusion drawn by the experts and advocates Disability Rights NC  this morning in response to an announcement that the state has failed to reach a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice with respect to a “letter of findings” issued by the feds last July.
As is stated in the press release issued by DRNC and reproduced below, the Perdue administration has, sadly, opted for several more years of glacial-paced “progress” on the issue of warehousing mentally ill people in “rest homes” rather than biting the bullet and entering into a bona fide and enforceable agreement as has been done in other states. All in all, a sad day for the cause:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Vicki Smith, Executive Director
Disability Rights North Carolina
State Avoids Enforcement in Its Failure to Reach Agreement with the USDOJ Regarding Its Legal Obligation to North Carolinians with Mental Illness
July 26, 2012, Raleigh, NC: Today NC Secretary of Health and Human Services Al Delia announced an eight-year plan to develop services for 3,000 individuals with mental illness living in Adult Care Homes to more integrated settings appropriate to their needs. The plan is the State’s attempt to address a July 28, 2011 Letter of Findings issued by the US Department of Justice (USDOJ) which found North Carolina in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The letter was issued in response to a complaint filed July 26, 2010 by Disability Rights NC alleging North Carolina’s practice of warehousing people with mental illness in adult care homes violated the ADA’s integration mandate.
The State and USDOJ have been in confidential negotiations for the last year. At the table were representatives from the Governor’s Office, the Department of Health & Human Services and the Attorney General’s Office. Little information was shared about the negotiations until today’s announcement that the parties failed to reach agreement. However, the General Assembly’s inclusion of $10.3 million in the 2012-2013 Budget to begin implementation of any settlement was seen as a sign that resolution was near. Today’s announcement also included an acknowledgment by the State that its failure to reach a settlement with USDOJ was due largely to a disagreement regarding an enforcement mechanism for the plan.
“We are disappointed that the State was unable to come to an agreement to resolve our complaint with USDOJ,” said Vicki Smith, Executive Director of Disability Rights NC. “It is reassuring to hear the State acknowledge the enormity of the unmet needs of people with mental illness and their plan to increase supported housing, supported employment and other services. However, the plan outlined by the State lacks a binding agreement which once and for all commits the state to fulfill the promises we’ve heard today. The time for unenforceable promises has passed.”
The Department of Justice may still pursue legal action against the state. “Whatever steps the USDOJ takes next, Disability Rights NC will continue to work tirelessly for full inclusion of people with disabilities in our communities,” said Smith.
It has been more than a decade since promises of Mental Health Reform were first made and many of the State’s promises have gone unfulfilled.
North Carolina failed to develop a meaningful Community Integration Plan as required by the 1999 US Supreme Court decision in Olmstead v. L.C. including policies that provide incentives for community based services and placements.
North Carolina failed to adequately fund the state’s Mental Health Trust Fund.
North Carolina failed to develop community based services as hospital beds were closed. Instead it relied on an industry that was neither designed nor competent to promote the recovery and inclusion of people with mental illness in the community.
Most importantly, North Carolina failed to focus first and foremost on the interests and needs of people with mental illness. It lost sight of its purpose – protecting the health and safety of all its citizens while providing essential human services.