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Lawsuit Over Services for Seriously Mentally Ill People Finally Settled, 33 Years Later

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In 1981, a lawsuit was filed alleging that the state health department and Maricopa County had not put together a comprehensive mental-health system, as required by a law a couple of years earlier.

That lawsuit was settled. Yesterday.

The settlement of the class-action lawsuit, Arnold v. Sarn, calls for expanded housing, employment support, access to care, and more for the seriously mentally ill, in an effort to comply with the decades-old state law designed to support the seriously mentally ill living in communities, rather than keeping them institutionalized.

Watch Chick Arnold, then the Maricopa County Public Fudiciary, explain the earlier years of the lawsuit in an appearance on Arizona Horizons a couple of years ago:

Governor Jan Brewer's office says the settlement "establishes a blueprint for a successful community-based behavioral health system in Arizona."

The final settlement, which will become a final enforceable judgment subject to court approval, provides a variety of community-based services and programs agreed upon by the state and plaintiffs, including crisis services; supported employment and housing services; assertive community treatment; family and peer support; life skills training; and respite care services. The Arizona Department of Health Services is required to adopt certain national quality standards outlined by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration, as well as annual quality service reviews conducted by an independent contractor and an independent service capacity assessment to ensure the delivery of quality care to the state's SMI population.

The agreement is an enforceable contract that is structured so the Court can enforce the requirements should the state not fulfill the terms. It is not anticipated that additional funding is required to comply with the agreement.

Both parties in the lawsuit had negotiated ways to get the state health department and the county into compliance starting in the mid-1990s, but it never continued smoothly, for a variety of reasons.

The joint motion filed yesterday explains why the lawsuit, which has cost the county and state hundreds of millions of dollars, can finally come to an end: Brewercare, and Obamacare. From that motion:

During the 2013 legislative session, the Governor proposed and the Arizona Legislature adopted a program to restore, and increase eligibility for, Arizona's childless adult Medicaid population (collectively "Restored Medicaid Program"). Beginning in 2014, the Restored Medicaid Program will provide increased funding for necessary services to the Class Members. In addition, Class Members who do not qualify under the Restored Medicaid Program will be eligible for subsidized health insurance funded by the Affordable Care Act, further increasing the system's ability to meet their mental health needs. These two factors and Governor Brewer's strong commitment to provide services to persons with serious mental illness have allowed the parties to reach an agreement on the termination of this litigation.

The settlement is still subject to court approval.

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Follow Matthew Hendley on Twitter at @MatthewHendley.

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