There are some hopeful signs of late that advocates for persons with mental illness, developmental disabilities, and substance abuse problems are beginning to hold state policymakers' feet to the fire. Last week, two legal services programs brought suit in federal court against the state over the denial of services to a 12 year-old Robeson County boy.
This morning, in what may prove to be an even more encouraging development for the long-term, a new advocacy group released a report in which it took the state to task for allowing at least three people to die needlessly because of the failure to have "discharge plans" in place when they were released from state-run institutions.
The report is entitled "Deadly Transitions: A Devastating Breakdown in Discharge Planning" and the group behind it is Disability Rights North Carolina. Here's an excerpt from the press release from this morning's event:
The report highlights events which contributed to the death of three patients: TD, whose discharge plan was to have his parents continue their attempts to contact his case manage so his aftercare plan could be developed after he was discharged – in spite of his parents' efforts TD died two weeks after discharge; LB, who was discharged to a closed homeless shelter and died within days; and TC, who killed himself two days after being discharged from a 36-hour admission to a state hospital. Our investigation of these deaths and others reveal a pattern of dangerously inadequate discharge planning practices at the state-operated facilities.
'Unfortunately, the State's current plans to address discharge planning are minimal, unfunded, and lack accountability and any urgency,' said Vicki Smith, Disability Rights North Carolina's Executive Director. 'We believe it is essential that the State achieve legally adequate discharge services in order to prevent unnecessary deaths in the future.'"
What's perhaps most heartening about all of this is that today's event served as a kind of coming out event for Disability Rights North Carolina. The group was founded last fall after advocates succeeded in getting the state to redirect federal funds that are supposed to underwrite a "Protection and Advocacy" effort in every state. Unfortunately, in North Carolina these funds had, for years, been given to a state controlled entity that lacked the independence to challenge state officials.
Now that the new and independent organization is up and running (and from the looks of things, ready to raise a little heck) it seems increasingly likely that there will be a new and adequately funded group of lawyers and experts capable of providing some of the oversight and advocacy North Carolina's MHDDSA system so desperately needs.
The report is available on the DRNC website.
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