NH News
6:04 pm
Wed April 18, 2012

AG Disputes Civil Rights Lawsuit

The Attorney General says New Hampshire has a “good system to serve people with mental illness. 

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Justice and the Disabilities Rights Center filed a lawsuit alleging the state is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.

In court documents filed late Tuesday, the AG denies that charge.

The state faces charges that it doesn’t provide enough mental health services to people outside of institutions.

For example, there aren’t enough crisis apartments where a person can go and get support from a peer.

There aren’t enough s mobile teams of mental health professionals who can respond to psychiatric healthcare needs.

Nobody disputes these claims...not even the Attorney General.

“The state realizes its mental health system isn’t perfect, but the state feels that the mental health system complies with all of the necessary laws.”

That’s Associate Attorney General Anne Edwards.

The state is walking a fine line in this case.

On the one hand, state officials from the Attorney General to the Commissioner of Health and Human Services say the state’s mental health system needs work.

Part of the defense in this week’s filing is that HHS is moving to implement the 10-year plan to make improvements.

But Associate AG Edwards says that doesn’t mean the whole mental health system is deficient.

“One of the issues in defending a lawsuit like this is what are the services the state is required to provide versus what are the ideal services that someone would like.”

In other words, the state is doing what it is legally required to do.

“It’s not sufficient to say we are doing a good enough job”

That’s attorney Amy Messer with the New Hampshire Disabilities Rights Center.

“They are not making progress. The situation is getting worse every day.”

Messer filed the original lawsuit against the state.

The lawyer points to any number of problems as proof of the deteriorating situation,.

Patients stuck in emergency rooms waiting for space to open up at New Hampshire Hospital, the state’s psychiatric facility.

People coming in and out of New Hampshire Hospital, returning because there aren’t any other options for care.

One of the named plaintiffs in the lawsuit is 22 year old Mandy D. who is bi-polar.

Messer says she’s been admitted to New Hampshire Hospital 20 times.

“For people like Mandy who are continually cycling through this institutionalizations, that is unlawful discrimination.”

Messer says the whole point of the Americans with Disabilities Act is to ensure people like Mandy don’t have their lives interrupted by their illness.

The state for its part wants to make certain improvements and has a plan to do that.

But AG Anne Edwards says people need to remember it’s been a very difficult climate the last few years.

“The state has a lot of different demands on it and on its funds. And during a time period of very significant economic decline, it’s even harder to balance those economic interests.”

Edwards says she expects to file a response to the U.S. Justice Department charges in the coming weeks.