State News

Settlement over NC mental health could cost state millions

Posted May 15, 2012

— The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services could end up paying millions of dollars to avoid a lawsuit over alleged violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act, state lawmakers learned Tuesday.

State health officials briefed the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee for Health and Human Services on Tuesday about the progress of the months of negotiations with the U.S. Department of Justice.

The issue stems from a justice department report last summer that found that the state's mental health system needlessly institutionalized thousands of mental health patients, segregating them from the community and impeding their interaction with people who do not have disabilities.

Mental health advocacy group Disability Rights North Carolina estimates the number of patients affected could be anywhere from 6,000 to 20,000.

Because of the pending litigation, DHHS officials did not say publicly how much the state might end up paying if a settlement were to be reached. They were expected to hold a confidential briefing on the cost for lawmakers Wednesday.

Other states, however, have settled similar cases for billions of dollars.

DHHS logo, N.C. Department of Health and Human Services Settlement over NC mental health could cost millions

Challenging the lawsuit might not be any better, DHHS general counsel Emery Milliken told lawmakers.

"Once you're in front of a federal district judge, you've lost that control and ability to shape your own destiny," she said.

DHHS Interim Secretary Al Delia said a settlement would most likely need to be finalized in the next few weeks.

It would be up to Gov. Bev Perdue and the General Assembly to finalize an agreement and to decide where the money to cover it would come from.

Compromises on budget issues between the Democratic governor and the Republican-led legislature, however, have been difficult, at best

"We just hope politics doesn't get in the way of doing what is right for people with mental illness and other disabilities," Disability Rights' executive director, Vicki Smith said.

8 Comments

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  • ladyblue May 16, 9:59 a.m.

    Reread the story, the state is not getting any money - - the state (DHHS) will have to pay it to the citizens they wronged.

    i know that and that is what i'm saying. the settlement money should be RETURNED BACK TO THE STATE AFTER IT'S AWARDED to the people..

    if an elderly person owns real estate property while using medicaid services in NC the state of NC can put claim onto the home when the person deceases. I was saying if the elderly have to reimburse the state and turn in the family homestead,then these individuals should have to reimburse for the medicaid services they used (when settlement reached) ..

  • May 15, 7:40 p.m.

    "...the state's mental health system needlessly institutionalized thousands of mental health patients, segregating them from the community and impeding their interaction with people who do not have disabilities."

    When did this occur? 50 years ago? Yesterday?

  • T5050 May 15, 7:31 p.m.

    Ladyblue- the Phoenix: well instead of this money going directly in the hands of the individuals and their families, i hope it's taken back by the state to pay back the care of them that use medicaid services in this state

    Reread the story, the state is not getting any money - - the state (DHHS) will have to pay it to the citizens they wronged. Not sure how the settlement will go, however, the state may end up having to deposit the money into escrow and the U.S. Dept of Justice will award the settlements. Either way, the money will eventually be given to "anywhere from 6,000 to 20,000" affected patients.

  • ladyblue May 15, 7:13 p.m.

    well instead of this money going directly in the hands of the individuals and their families, i hope it's taken back by the state to pay back the care of them that use medicaid services in this state. after all if a poor senior owns a little family home, and has to have state medical assistance in older age (medicaid to pay medical) then when the person dies the family has to repay the state by sell of the house. I'm sure these people use medicaid services from the state and they should have to use the reward to pay off their debt..

  • Nancy May 15, 6:59 p.m.

    How many years was this fiasco in the making and our local media downplayed the issue to the public?

  • May 15, 6:56 p.m.

    I'm confused. We have a shortage of available beds in our psych. hospitals, but somehow we're involuntarily committing patients that don't need in-patient care?

    That's news to me.

  • djofraleigh May 15, 6:37 p.m.

    It would be up to Gov. Bev Perdue and the General Assembly to finalize an agreement and to decide where the money to cover it would come from. -- COMMENT

    It will probably come from where the money would have come from if spent as it should have been.

  • storchheim May 15, 5:50 p.m.

    We haven't even paid off the eugenics victims and here's another group with their hands out, Bev can't wait to hand them our money even though she is responsible for the decisions and actions of DHHS and every other department at the State. She gave her boy a cushy job, they still can't find anyone to replace him permanently (big surprise) let alone finish the new Medicaid system rewrite that's gone way over budget and past deadline, and the person who dreamed up the scheme of having "counselors" take kids to the mall for $60/ hour is still in her office too. Yes, yes, Bev, please take more money from us so you can keep your incompetent, stupid cronies in steak, whiskey, mansions and silk now and even after they retire.

    We're sooooo hyped up about JE, which could have waited till later, and we do nothing about this evil, angry woman whose ugly mask slipped last week, still making decisions that hurt us and reward the puckering few.