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State sued over mental health cuts

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The Hawaii Disability Rights Center is asking the state Circuit Court to restore adult mental health services cut last year by the state Health Department.

The center filed a complaint Tuesday saying, "The cutbacks harmed thousands of mentally ill adults throughout the State of Hawaii by depriving them of access to needed medication, treatment and other services."

The suit was filed by the Honolulu law firm of Alston Hunt Floyd & Ing.

The Health Department had no immediate comment on the lawsuit, said spokeswoman Janice Okubo, explaining the agency needs to review the complaint and discuss it with the attorney general.

The center, in a news release, said June 22 was the 11th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Olmstead decision giving people with disabilities the right to live in the community if they desire rather than being institutionalized.

"That right is denied where the supports people need to succeed are not provided," the center said.

The Adult Mental Health Division began cutting programs and services to mentally ill adults in late 2008, the center said.

In January 2009 case management hours needed by people to access medication, counseling, housing and other services were reduced to 3.5 hours per month from three hours per week, it said.

Last July, the center said, "with no public input or discussion, AMHD changed its eligibility rules to end services it provides to patients other than those with severe and persistent mental illness.

"That left thousands of people to find help from private providers who were already in short supply."

The division also eliminated or reduced support for residential facilities, parent education and support groups and clubhouses "that have been important resources for the mentally ill," the Disability Rights Center said.

Positions will be eliminated Wednesday for professionals statewide who advise the Health Department about the behavioral health needs of their communities, according to the center.

The center argues that the new eligibility rules are void because they were adopted without following requirements of the Hawaii Administrative Procedures Act for a formal process allowing interested people to comment.

The court is being asked to stop the division from enforcing revised eligibility standards, to require the Health Department to determine eligibility of people entitled to service under its previous rules and provide remedial services "to compensate for the wrongful denial of services."

The action also seeks damages to compensate for "physical and psychological injuries caused by the wrongful denial of services and medication based upon invalid rules."

 

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