Health
6:33 pm
Thu December 19, 2013

State Agrees To $30 Million Settlement In Mental Health Lawsuit

The state of New Hampshire has agreed to settle a major class-action lawsuit over its treatment of residents with serious mental illness.

Under the terms of the agreement announced Thursday, the state will spend an additional $30 million on expanding services for the strained mental health system over the next 4 years. 

NHPR's Brady Carlson speaks with Amy Messer, Legal Director for the Disabilities Rights Center, about the settlement of a major class action lawsuit regarding mental health services.

“The first priority in this case for the New Hampshire Department of Justice has been to ensure that the State of New Hampshire is able to develop its own plan for community mental health services that best meets the needs of its residents,” Attorney General Foster wrote in a statement. “This settlement agreement, developed in conjunction with the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services, enhances the State’s mental health services to address the concerns of the plaintiffs.”

The state agrees to spend an additional $6 million in the current budget, plus an additional $23.7 million in the next two-year spending plan. The resources will support more round-the-clock care for people in crisis, as well as more community housing and employment opportunities.

Governor Hassan says the settlement builds on the additional money she pushed for in the current budget for mental health services.

“Reaching this settlement ensures that we can continue addressing our mental health challenges in a fiscally responsible way that protects the state’s budget and that ensures that New Hampshire citizens are driving improvements in our mental health system – not federal judges,” she wrote in a statement. “Continuing the lawsuit would undoubtedly have cost the state millions of dollars in legal fees and untold millions more per year if the state had not prevailed in its case.”

Under the terms of the settlement, if the state legislature doesn’t agree to the funding levels, the plaintiffs in the case retain the right to resume their legal battle.

The state also agrees to pay the $2.4 million in legal fees accrued by the plaintiffs.

The Disabilities Rights Center brought the suit in February, 2012 citing violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act. It was joined by six residents with psychiatric disabilities who were allegedly subjected to prolonged or needless stays in state institutions due to a lack of community-based mental health services. The U.S. Department of Justice joined the case in March, 2012, citing the same failures.

Ken Norton with the National Alliance on Mental Illness of New Hampshire applauded the agreement. He says it will reduce the need for hospitalizations and provide critical services to residents in need.

“This negotiated settlement is a major step forward for New Hampshire,” says Norton. “It reflects the bipartisan recognition that services to adults with severe mental illness and children with serious emotional disorders must be improved immediately.”