Disability Rights Florida sued the state of Florida on August 15, arguing it is violating federal law by unnecessarily prolonging the stays of hundreds of individuals with disabilities in its psychiatric treatment facilities.
The class-action lawsuit is on behalf of the state’s population of 1,600 individuals voluntarily and involuntarily committed to these facilities under Florida’s Civil Mental Health Act.
Disability Rights Florida argues that the state’s practices continually violate the Americans with Disabilities Act, which requires states to provide services ensuring individuals can live in the most integrated settings according to their needs. As Disability Rights Florida sees it, the practice is a byproduct of the state’s failure to provide appropriate preventive care.
“Many of these individuals are segregated in the state treatment facilities for no other reason than appropriate services do not exist for them in the community,” the complaint stated. “Defendants have failed to provide an adequate mental health treatment system that corresponds to the needs and abilities of Florida citizens with mental health diagnoses.”
According to the lawsuit, the state has already cleared more than 300 individuals for transfer to more integrated settings. Of this population, 59 percent have been waiting for a new placement for more than 60 days, while 30 percent have been waiting for more than 181 days.
“What we are asking is for the Court to compel the State to offer a full array of supports and services in integrated community settings that will allow people with mental illnesses to leave these highly segregated state hospitals,” said Dana Farmer, director of legislative and public affairs for Disability Rights Florida, in a news release. “For people with mental illnesses, the State now supports the concept of recovery and resiliency but has done very little to help make that possible for people leaving institutionalized care.”
Disability Rights Florida is part of the federally funded protection and advocacy system and a member of the National Disability Rights Network.