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Patients in DHHS lawsuit to keep health services for now

Posted December 28, 2009

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— A federal judge on Monday granted a preliminary injunction that blocks the state from terminating two people's community-based mental health services until a lawsuit over the matter goes before the court in a full hearing.

Disability Rights North Carolina filed the complaint earlier this month against the secretary of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services and the Rocky Mount mental health facility Beacon Center, claiming the patients – who have developmental disabilities and mental illness – stood to lose state and federal services that allow them to live independently.

Vicky Smith DHHS lawsuit back in federal court

The cuts were supposed to go into effect Dec. 15, but U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle issued a temporary restraining order, which was set to expire Monday. It was extended until a full hearing on the matter. A date hasn't been scheduled.

The disability rights advocacy group says the service cuts violate the federal Americans With Disabilities Act, which allows for disabled people to live in their communities if they are able to do so.

"In the case of these two individuals, they've been successfully living in the community for going on 10 years," said Vicki Smith, executive director of Disability Rights. "So, this really would be in complete violation of the law, because we don't have to prove that they could. They have already demonstrated that they are able to."

The state argued Monday morning that the individuals could still live in their communities without the services. Chris Brewer, an attorney for the defendants, said the judge's ruling was not a surprise.

"We'll proceed in defending the lawsuit," he said. "We believe we'll be successful on the merits (of our case)."

Last week, the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice filed a brief in support of the lawsuit, citing a U.S. Supreme Court ruling requiring states to eliminate unnecessary segregation of persons with disabilities and to move support to those who can live in the community.

Two representatives from the division were in court Monday and spoke as a friend of the court, which the judge said was a factor in his decision.

"It sends a clear message that this isn't just what Disability Rights North Carolina thinks," Smith said. "It's what the U.S. Department of Justice thinks."

Earlier this year, lawmakers cut DHHS funding by approximately $1.7 billion to help close a $4.6 billion state budget gap. Those cuts were later offset by about $15 million.

About $65 million to $75 million of the department's $390 million community services budget was cut. Mental health advocates have said that cuts in Medicaid pushed the total reduction to about $500 million.

Smith said the outcome of the case could be significant.

"While this ruling impacts just the lives of these two individuals at this moment, we think it sets precedent for future cases," she said.

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  • cbdtnt919 Dec 29, 2009

    Yes I agree Firecaptain2000 i work with Wake Co in the Mental Health im sure that i knw first hand,dnt get things wrong i feel 4 these guys and yes they do need help I have been working in this field for about 9 yrs now.Its sad I volunteer my time to help out due to no workers I am with them more than I am sitting in my office but i can sit back and write their care plans but I dnt I am the one that has a heart and care when they need to go to store and have no funds I am there.My job Wake Co don't pay me 4 that I will get my blessings...
    All im sayn is that the system has made some mistakes and they have to suffer which is wrong im with u on lots of things..I love my job but dnt always agree we all have family that my need help one day....

  • firecaptain2000 Dec 29, 2009

    Interesting comments. I can empathize with those of you who describe government waste, and parental responsibility, but YOU posters make statements based solely on assumption and comparison to your own lives. I personally know 1 of the 2 "patients" named in this case. Her parents are deceased, she has 1 sibling and very little extended family. She has overcome a lot in her life and is NOT IN NEED of the MORE EXPENSIVE institutional care. Yes, community based care is cheaper, provides jobs for less skilled professionals and it allows the disabled to live a life as close to what you and I would consider "normal". For God's sake, let these folks have some dignity. They have done no harm being born with a disability, they ask for nothing and require very little. Shame on you who think otherwise, but you probably can't help it. Ignorance is contagious! Seems like so many have an opinion but no time to volunteer, help out and get their facts straight from the "horse's" mouth!

  • cbdtnt919 Dec 29, 2009

    Well I feel like once again the system has let us dwn..They always talk about the budget who is this really hurting the clients of course.They have to suffer due to the funds Wake Co has misused the funds.The allow parents to get paid for doing service 4 their own children..1 example 2 parents who work in home and making at 100-200 thousand a year get all the hours for their kids when they should b the ones limits scents there home..everyone has misused the system.Now its a problem they want someone to take care of their children..Why pay a worker to come to ur home and get ur child up when the parents r there and able...Tell me that is where the funds are going.So people out there reall need this system and its sad.But welcome to the USA greed that is why things are happen ane we are n this mess today

  • TriangleMommy Dec 29, 2009

    Folks - you need to educate yourself on what these funds are. and what these plans are before you bash them. These are aids to daily living.

  • gman007 Dec 28, 2009

    I don't understand how this 'violates' the disabilities act. It says we can't discriminate against the disabled. In other words, we are not allowed to treat them differently than anyone else. Are they saying that the government not paying for them to simply live together in a house at our expense is somehow discriminating? Are they collecting disablility and getting a free house? If they are both collecting disablity couldn't they afford their own home? Too many questions!

  • mimser Dec 28, 2009

    Since the gov't has already decided to run these people's lives, I guess the question we should be asking is whether or not it is cheaper to provide the services and keep them in the community or pay the cost for them to be permanently institutionalized.

    I doubt anyone will think that clearly though.

  • R_U_breakdance fighting Dec 28, 2009

    "And a statement that does not get the fact that DDHS handles more than just mental health is an indication how poorly informed most people are these days. But stay misinformed and watch the people that need the help get tossed aside."

    ...and the ignorance continues

  • whatelseisnew Dec 28, 2009

    "A statement such as that just illustrates how ignorant some people are in regards to mental health issues."

    And a statement that does not get the fact that DDHS handles more than just mental health is an indication how poorly informed most people are these days. But stay misinformed and watch the people that need the help get tossed aside.

  • blondton13 Dec 28, 2009

    whatelseisnew: "If we got rid of all the bums that suckle off the system, then we could take much better care of those people that actually do need help."

    A statement such as that just illustrates how ignorant some people are in regards to mental health issues.

  • whatelseisnew Dec 28, 2009

    If we got rid of all the bums that suckle off the system, then we could take much better care of those people that actually do need help.

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