Settlement approved to overhaul WA youth mental health services

Photo of Tina Fricke, one of the named plaintiffs in T.R. v. Quigley.
Tina Fricke, named plaintiff in T.R. v. Quigley

A federal court has approved a landmark settlement that will transform how Washington State provides mental health services to an estimated 6,000 Medicaid-eligible youth per year.

Under the terms of the settlement, approved Dec. 19, the state will implement a new program called Wraparound with Intensive Services, or WISe, designed to prevent youth from such outcomes as hospitalization, long-term institutionalization in psychiatric facilities, and placements in foster care and juvenile justice systems.

This program will be aided by the implementation of mobile crisis teams, in order to de-escalate and respond to emergency situations. The system will likely take five years to fully implement.

“These services will provide, in my opinion and in the opinion of both sides, the single most important relief sought, that is, access to intensive individualized mental health services provided in the home or community that will allow class members to achieve higher functioning, experience reduced symptoms, and to avoid unnecessarily being institutionalized. In other words, to live more independent and productive lives,” said Judge Thomas Zilly of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, at a hearing approving the settlement.

The settlement stems from a November 2009 class-action lawsuit alleging the state violated the Medicaid Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fourteenth Amendment. The lawsuit was filed by by 10 Medicaid-eligible youth, represented by Disability Rights Washington, Perkins Coie, the National Center for Youth Law, the National Health Law Program and the Young Minds Advocacy Project.

The parties reached an interim agreement in March 2012 and announced a proposed settlement in August 2013, before receiving final court approval of the settlement last month.

“It’s a complete overhaul of youth mental-health services for Medicaid eligible (children),” David Carlson, director of legal advocacy for Disability Rights Washington, told the Seattle Times.

Disability Rights Washington, the publisher of this DisAbility Galaxy website, is part of the federally funded protection and advocacy system and a member of the National Disability Rights Network.