DOJ reaches mental disability settlement with Puerto Rico

Culminating a 12-year legal battle, Puerto Rico officials announced November 3 that they have reached an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice to continue improving services for people with mental disabilities.

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The long-running lawsuit has resulted in more 1,300 court orders requiring the U.S. territory to expand and improve disability services, according to an Associated Press article.

In 1999, following a two-year investigation, the Department of Justice filed a lawsuit amid reports of abuse and neglect in Puerto Rico’s six treatment centers for people with mental disabilities, including instances of patients being locked up and forced to eat with their hands.

Puerto Rico has since closed four of the six treatment centers and built 52 community treatment centers in a system that now serves more than 700 people with mental disabilities.

Esther Caro, director of the Mayaguez Association of People with Impediment, gave cautious praise to the agreement, noting that significant improvement is still necessary.

“We are witnesses that the service being provided is poor, minimal and deficient,” Caro said in the AP article.

A local judge will continue to oversee the developing changes during the next three years.

“This is definitely a significant achievement,” said  Guillermo Somoza, attorney general of Puerto Rico, in the AP article. “It will improve the quality of life of a population that desperately needs it.”