Local Politics

Group files suit against head of DHHS

Posted February 11, 2010 7:35 p.m. EST
Updated February 11, 2010 7:50 p.m. EST

N.C. health, mental health, Medicaid generic

— A disability rights advocacy group filed suit Thursday against the leaders of the state Department of Health and Human Services and a local health service provider alleging that planned cuts in funding for mental health services violate the rights of patients and inhibit their ability to live independently.

The two men, identified in the lawsuit as Clinton L., 46, and Timothy B., 44, are both developmentally disabled and mentally ill. They have been living independently with the help of federal and state support, according to the suit filed by Disability Rights North Carolina.

DRNC filed the suit to ask for a temporary restraining order against Piedmont Behavioral Healthcare and DHHS in implementing the cuts. Lanier Cansler, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, and Dan Coughlin, CEO and director of Piedmont Behavorial Healthcare are named as defendants.

The plaintiffs are representative of a class of individuals who receive services from Piedmont Behavioral Healthcare, a local management entity. A DRNC search of public records found 35 members of the class, spokeswoman Vicki Smith said.

PBH, which is funded by the state, plans to cut the rate it pays for those services as a result of state budget cuts.

According to the suit, PBH's planned cuts would prompt service providers to cease offering the support the plaintiffs need to live on their own. The suit alleges the cuts planned by DHHS and PBH violate the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Piedmont’s plan to cut the reimbursement rate for supervised living services from $162 to $116, scheduled to take effect on Monday, would constructively abolish that service for PBH’s clients, as providers would no longer offer the service at that rate, DRNC said in a statement released Thursday.

Both parties have agreed to keep the current reimbursement rate in place until a hearing on the suit Wednesday.

This is the second such suit filed against the state, but the first class-action. DRNC brought suit in December on behalf of two patients served by the Beacon Center, the local management entity serving Edgecombe, Greene, Nash and Wilson counties.

A judge granted a preliminary injunction against service cuts by Beacon, pending a  full hearing on the matter. A date for that hearing has not been set.