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Group files class action lawsuit against the state for 'warehousing' mentally disabled

Citing a shortage of community treatment options for the mentally disabled in Florida, a state advocacy organization on Monday sued the state for violating the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and asked a court to intervene. 

Disability Rights Florida filed the class action lawsuit in federal court alleging that an estimated 300 people have been deemed eligible for community treatment but wait for months and years on a waiting list because the state options are inadequate.  

"By failing to provide adequate community placements, the defendants have created a situation in which individuals with psychiatric disabilities are warehoused in large state facilities,'' the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida, alleges.  Download TW v DCF Complaint

The group seeks to force the state to provide community residential treatment options to the lead plaintiff in the case, a 32-year-old male named T.W., and an estimated 1,600 other adults. T.W. was committed to Florida State Hospital in December 2009 and is now deemed to be eligible for a less restrictive setting and would like to move closer to his mother. He's been on the waiting list since December 2012.  

“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, legislative affairs director Disability Rights Florida. "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.”

According to the complaint, there are 71 people waiting for community-based services but are now in the more expensive South Florida State Hospital. Another 61 people seek placement into the community from Florida State Hospital, and 107 from Northeast Florida State Hospital are awaiting community based options.

The state's "failure to design and support an adequate community-based mental health treatment system has caused delays and prolonged the stay of individuals in receiving facilities while waiting for their admission to the state treatment facilities in contravention of their rule-defined purpose of holding 'involuntary patients under emergency conditions or for psychiatric evaluation and to provide short-term treatment,' '' the lawsuit alleges. 

"Individuals residing in civil state treatment facilities have limited access to community activities and opportunities to interact with people who do not have disabilities,'' the group said in its press statement. "For these adults, who want to live in the community with necessary supported housing and assertive community treatment team services, the available services are not adequate or available statewide." 

The lawsuit specifically names the Department of Children and Families and the Agency for Health Care Administration which regulate and administer the disability programs. Gov. Rick Scott and his administration have been the target of more than a dozen lawsuits since he took office in 2011.

Neither agency had been served with the complaint as of late Monday. When they do, the state will file a motion to dismiss the complaint on the basis it "fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted,'' said AHCA spokeswoman Shelisha Coleman.