Why put off until tomorrow what you can do five years from now?
That’s the question posed by the settlement of a lawsuit in the great state of New Jersey. Imagine being cleared to be discharged out of an inpatient psychiatric hospital, only you have no place to go. New Jersey, like many states, didn’t really care — you can stay at the hospital for as long as you want. But as anyone who has spent any amount of time in such a facility, you know it’s not really a conducive place for, um, “self-growth” and certainly not for someone trying to get their life and independence back.
So four years ago, a group representing 300 patients at inpatient state psychiatric hospitals filed suit to get the state to comply with the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1999 Olmstead ruling, which requires states to help people with disabilities live in the least restrictive setting possible. Four years ago. Yes, the state knew full well they would have to comply with the Supreme Court ruling four years ago.
But instead of simply acknowledging this fact, state officials put off doing anything during those four years as the lawsuit winded its way through the court system. The outcome, though, was never in doubt:
Nearly 300 patients stranded inside the state’s psychiatric hospitals for more than a year because of a lack of housing and outpatient treatment services will be discharged over the next five years, under a lawsuit settlement announced today by a disability advocacy group and the state Department of Human Services.
You got that? Now residents of the hospitals have to wait up to another five years to be released! That means they can release 5 residents a month (wow, a whole 5 people a month, in a state with a population of 8.7 million residents) over the next 5 years to clear those who are waiting. But you know what, it’s okay, because “philosophically” the state was wanting to comply with the Supreme Court ruling made a decade ago, they just didn’t have the money to do so:
“Philosophically, we were on the same page but there are the practical realities we face in state government, and that is what took time,” Martone said.
The true “practical reality” is that the state likely faced far stiffer financial penalties if they didn’t comply. It costs an estimated $5 million a year to offer the low-cost housing needed for these residents. I guess their money was tied up elsewhere.
Of course, you don’t have to look too hard to find millions of dollars in earmarks made by the state’s congressional contingent that might be better funneled to helping these New Jersey residents. I enjoy reading through the appropriations requested by the NJ congressional delegates that send big chunks of free federal government spending to New Jersey companies for one-off projects. Tasty pork, that.
All states do this, of course, but not all states leave their own residents to languish in their state hospitals due to a lack of planning and resources.
In the end, it’ll be nearly 10 years from when the residents filed their lawsuit against the state, and the last resident is released. My heart goes out to these folks, who certainly deserve better than New Jersey has given them.
Read the full article: N.J. psychiatric hospitals to release 300 patients under lawsuit settlement
Hat tip to Furious Seasons.