Plan to Dump Mentally Ill Challenged in California

SACRAMENTO (CN) – In a boneheaded response to the state budget crisis, Sacramento County will cut off services to more than 5,000 outpatients suffering from mental illnesses – including schizophrenia and bipolar disorder – a class action claims in Federal Court. The county plans to terminate Medi-Cal treatment for two outpatient programs on July 1.

     The county has cut millions of dollars from its mental health budget since 2009. The two targeted programs assist 5,000 mental health patients in Sacramento County who suffer from severe mental illnesses, according to the complaint.
     On the chopping block are the county’s four “regional support teams” (RSTs), and an outpatient recovery program that “provides crises intervention, care management, rehabilitative services and medication management.” The cuts will affect patients such as lead plaintiff Leslie Napper, who depends on an RST visit for her medication.
     Without regular visits from RST staff, the class says, they “are likely to stop taking their medications and attending their counseling sessions and, as a consequence, will become delusional, suicidal or otherwise present a danger to themselves and others.”
     When this happens, the class says, they will be unable to take care of themselves and will be at serious risk of becoming homeless or winding up permanently hospitalized.
     “It costs far more to institutionalize individuals with mental illness than it does to provide outpatient mental health services that allow them to live in community-based settings,” the class says, and once institutionalized, it is extremely difficult for mentally ill patients to get well enough to leave.
     A public meeting on April 1 revealed the county’s plan to open new clinics to absorb the roughly 4,300 patients who receive outpatient treatment. But the county has released few details about the locations, hours, staffing and range of services of these new clinics. The class claims the county did not even intend to notify the patients that their programs are to be terminated.
     The class seeks an injunction, claiming termination of the programs would violate the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Medicaid Act. They are represented by William Freeman with Cooley LLP of Palo Alto, and Stuart Seaborn with Disability Rights California.

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