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Sunday, October 2, 2011

In Deal, Hundreds of Mentally Ill People Will Leave Confinement of Nursing Home

By Anemona Hartcollis
The New York Times
Published September 12, 2011

Hundreds of mentally ill people who have been confined to nursing homes, sometimes in prisonlike conditions, would move to apartments or other housing within three years under a legal settlement with New York State.

The settlement resolved a case that was filed in Brooklyn federal court in 2006 and that accused the state of violating the spirit of its own longstanding rules for housing mentally ill people.

In researching the case, the plaintiffs found that psychiatric centers and nursing homes had developed “turnaround agreements, which essentially were written agreements to transfer patients back and forth,” Veronica S. Jung, senior staff attorney for New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, which helped to represent plaintiffs, said Monday.

“This certainly raises broader, troubling questions about the role of nursing homes, and their financial stakes, within the mental health care system,” Ms. Jung said.

The settlement came as the judge in the case, Brian M. Cogan, set a trial date for early October, Ms. Jung said.

“It did seem pretty clear that the specter of going to trial in the next few days probably motivated the state to move more quickly in negotiations,” Ms. Jung said. The state has agreed to pay $2.5 million in legal fees and costs to the plaintiffs’ counsel.

Andrew J. Zambelli, counselor to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, said the state had settled the case because “it just jibed with our kind of policy viewpoint — care for the vulnerable, into the community, using money appropriately.”

Under longstanding legal principle in New York and elsewhere, the mentally ill cannot be confined unless they are considered a threat to themselves or others, and should be housed in the least restrictive setting appropriate for their needs.

Under the terms of the settlement, the Cuomo administration has agreed to reform the process used to assess whether patients are capable of living in the community and want to live there. The state has also promised to hire independent contractors who would be trained to make the assessments.

The entire story can be found here.

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