DOJ files brief in Miss. mental health lawsuit

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The U.S. Justice Department has filed a court brief in support of a lawsuit that accuses Mississippi of funding costly mental health institutions at the expense of community-based services.

The brief was filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Jackson. It urges the court to deny the state’s request to dismiss the case.

The Southern Poverty Law Center and others filed the lawsuit last year. They say Mississippi’s funding structure harms children with behavioral and emotional disorders. The state denies the claims.

In its brief, the Justice Department agrees with the plaintiffs, saying the state system may exacerbate children’s conditions and impose unnecessary institutionalization, potentially a violation of federal laws.

Community-based services sought by the plaintiffs include case management, mobile crisis services and follow-ups after a hospital release. The delivery of such services is governed by the Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnostic and Treatment provisions of the Social Security Act.

“The denial of EPSDT services results in significant harm to children with behavioral or emotional disorders, including exacerbation of their conditions, deterioration to the point of crisis, and unnecessary institutionalization in violation of the (Americans with Disabilities Act),” according to the brief.

The Department of Mental Health was not immediately available for comment, but spokeswoman Wendy Bailey said recently that the state follows the law in providing care.

The agency has taken several steps in recent years to transition mentally ill or disabled patients who can live in the community out of psychiatric hospitals, Bailey said.

That statement came in response to the DOJ launching an investigation into whether Mississippi’s mental health system is discriminating against disabled persons by funding large psychiatric institutions at the expense of community-based care.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.

The Associated Press