Class action suits says Florida "warehousing" patients in psych facilities
August 22, 2013
TALLAHASSEE – A disability-rights organization has filed a federal lawsuit alleging that Florida has improperly “warehoused” people with mental illnesses in psychiatric institutions.
A plaintiff in the Disability Rights Florida’s lawsuit is a 60-year-old woman who lives at Northeast Florida State Hospital in Macclenny.
The suit, filed last week in Tallahassee by the non-profit Disability Rights Florida, is a proposed class action on behalf of potentially hundreds of people and contends that the state is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act. It says that many people in institutions could live in their communities if adequate services were provided.
“The state’s mental health treatment facilities are not the most integrated setting appropriate to the needs of its residents,’’ the lawsuit said. “Hundreds of individuals are confined in these facilities, not because of need, but because the state does not provide the necessary services in appropriate quality, quantity, and/or location to allow them to live in the less restrictive and integrated setting.”
Claims being evaluated
Disability Rights Florida listed two plaintiffs in the case. One, identified by the initials T.W., is a 32-year-old man who was committed in December 2009 to Florida State Hospital in Chattahoochee. The other, identified as P.M., is a 60-year-old woman who was committed in October 2010 and lives at Northeast Florida State Hospital in Macclenny.
The suit names the Florida Department of Children and Families and the state Agency for Health Care Administration as defendants. Whitney Ray, a DCF spokesman, said in an email Monday that the agency hasn’t been formally served with the lawsuit but is “evaluating the claims.”
Disability Rights Florida seeks a declaration that Florida is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act. Also, it seeks an injunction that, in part, would prevent the state from “administering mental health services in a setting that unnecessarily isolates and segregates individuals with disabilities from the community.”
The suit says that, as of June, 61 people were seeking community placements from Florida State Hospital, 107 were seeking community placements from Northeast Florida State Hospital and 71 were seeking community placements from South Florida State Hospital, which is run by a private contractor.
But the proposed class is broader, as it includes institutionalized people who are capable of living in communities and also people who might be capable in the future.
The case was filed as the state also battles two lawsuits alleging that it has violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by placing some children with complex medical needs in nursing homes. The Agency for Health Care Administration has adamantly disputed the allegations in those cases, which include one filed last month by the U.S. Department of Justice.
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