Raleigh, NC – After an eight-month investigation, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has issued a letter of findings accusing the State of North Carolina of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by unnecessarily institutionalizing mental health patients instead of providing support in the community. The DOJ's investigation was prompted by a complaint filed in July 2010 by Disability Rights North Carolina, the state's protection and advocacy agency for people with disabilities.
"Finally, this is a critical step towards true recovery for people with mental illness in North Carolina," said Vicki Smith, Executive Director of Disability Rights NC. "The State's bias towards institutionalization of people with mental illness has gone unchecked for far too long."
The central finding of the DOJ is that North Carolina lacks an adequate community support system for people with mental illness. As a result, individuals are institutionalized in more expensive and more restrictive settings in Adult Care Homes. "Most people with mental illness receiving services in adult care homes could be served in more integrated settings, but are relegated indefinitely and unnecessarily to adult care homes because of systemic State actions and policies," wrote U.S. Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez. "Reliance on unnecessary institutional settings violates the civil rights of people with disabilities. Community integration will permit the State to support people with disabilities in settings appropriate to their needs in a cost effective manner."
"Our findings are consistent with . . . conclusions made in several State-issued and State-funded reports," Perez wrote. A January 2011 state-funded report issued by the NC Institute of Medicine concluded "Adult care homes 'are not optimal for community integration' and '[r]esidents of ACHs may be cut off from active participation in the local community . . ..'" The same report admitted that there is an institutional bias in North Carolina: "People who enter an ACH or other type of facility can obtain certain financial assistance, services, and supports that are not equally available to people with similar levels of disability and financial need who choose to remain in their own homes."
The Department of Justice will work with the State to negotiate a voluntary compliance agreement. If negotiations are unsuccessful, Perez wrote, "the Attorney General may initiate a lawsuit pursuant to the ADA . . . to correct [the] deficiencies."
Federal law requires the state to provide care in a setting that lets people remain as integrated as possible in the community - a standard that North Carolina repeatedly fails to meet, according to the DOJ.
The 16-page report from Perez to state Attorney General Roy Cooper is dated July 28, 2011. A copy of the report is available at www.disabilityrightsnc.org.