See below for two memos published on January 29, 2010: (1) from the U.S. Department of Justice, (2) from Dr. Frank Shelp, Commissioner, Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities. Be sure to read both memos.
Department of Justice
Office of Public Affairs
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Friday, January 29, 2010
Justice Department Files for Immediate Relief Regarding Conditions in Georgia’s Hospitals
WASHINGTON – The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division today announced that it has filed a motion for immediate relief to protect individuals confined in seven state-run psychiatric hospitals in Georgia from the imminent and serious threat of harm to their lives, health and safety. The motion, filed late yesterday, seeks appointment of a monitor who will set binding targets and timetables for reducing the number of residents at the hospitals and expanding appropriate community based services.
A year ago, the state of Georgia and the Justice Department entered into an agreement to ensure that individuals in the hospitals were served in the most appropriate integrated settings and that unlawful conditions in the hospitals were remedied. The agreement was filed in United States v. Georgia, and the parties asked U.S. District Judge Charles A. Pannell Jr. to approve the agreement. However, the court has not yet approved the agreement.
The Justice Department has been monitoring conditions in the hospitals and has found that the facilities continue to be dangerous and that hundreds of individuals who could and should be served in the community remain institutionalized and continue to be exposed to dangerous conditions. Georgia continues to fail to serve patients in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs, and preventable deaths, suicides and assaults continue to occur with alarming frequency in the hospitals.
"States responsible for the care of individuals living in state run facilities have a duty to protect them from harm. Individuals in Georgia’s hospitals are being subjected to a widespread pattern of violence and are not being protected from preventable deaths," said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Civil Rights Division. "We need quick action to protect these individuals."
More than a decade ago, in Olmstead v. L.C., the Supreme Court found that Georgia Regional Hospital in Atlanta was impermissibly segregating two individuals with disabilities in that hospital when they could have been served in more integrated settings. The Supreme Court ordered states to serve individuals with disabilities in the most integrated settings appropriate to their needs. In the same hospital involved in that landmark case, and the other six run by Georgia, the state continues to impermissibly segregate hundreds of individuals.
In addition to the unlawful segregation, individuals in the hospitals are exposed to egregious harm. Some examples include:
•In 2009, the state failed to adequately supervise an individual who had killed previously. The individual assaulted and killed another individual in the hospital.
•In 2008, hospital staff failed to intervene in a fight between individuals. One of the individuals was knocked unconscious and died a few days later from blunt force trauma to the head.
•In 2009, staff failed to adequately supervise an individual who raped another individual.
•In 2009, an individual committed suicide by tipping his bed up and hanging himself from the upended bed. The Justice Department’s experts had repeatedly warned hospital staff during on-site visits of the dangers posed by these beds that were not bolted to the floor.
•This month, the state failed to adequately supervise an individual who expressed suicidal thoughts the day before she committed suicide.
The seven hospitals include East Central Regional Hospital, Georgia Regional Hospital at Savannah, Georgia Regional Hospital at Atlanta, Southwestern State Hospital, Central State Hospital, West Central Georgia Regional Hospital and Northwest Georgia Regional Hospital.
The Civil Rights Division is authorized to conduct investigations under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). CRIPA authorizes the Attorney General to investigate conditions of confinement in certain institutions owned or operated by, or on behalf of, state and local governments. In addition to psychiatric hospitals, these institutions include nursing homes, residential facilities serving persons with developmental disabilities, jails, prisons and juvenile correctional facilities. CRIPA’s focus is on systemic deficiencies rather than individual, isolated problems. The ADA authorizes the Attorney General to investigate whether a state is serving individuals in the most integrated settings appropriate to their needs. Please visit http://www.justice.gov/crt to learn more about CRIPA, the ADA and other laws enforced by the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.
The motion for immediate relief was filed by Mary Bohan, Timothy Mygatt, Robert Koch and Emily Gunston, Trial Attorneys in the Special Litigation Section of the Civil Rights Division.
Dr. Shelp's Response
Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
January 29, 2010
STATEMENT ON DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE COURT MOTION
ATLANTA - Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities Commissioner Frank Shelp released the following statement today regarding a motion filed by the Department of Justice on Thursday, January 28, 2010, concerning the state's psychiatric hospitals:
We have always preferred that people be served in communities where possible and that they should receive safe and effective care while in hospitals.
What we disagree with is the notion that change can happen overnight or that there's no role for hospital care for those who need it and want it. We're busy building a continuum of care to best serve the people of Georgia in the appropriate places. The DOJ's motion, if adopted, would divert resources and endanger that progress.
We began this new agency seven months ago with a clear understanding of the challenges we face. We know we can continue to improve and we're in the middle of major changes. Already the people we serve are safer are getting better care. What we need now is the resources and time to continue. Governor Perdue has provided us the resources. But this lawsuit by the Department of Justice would deny us the critical time we need.
We've cooperated with the Department of Justice, we've invited them into our hospitals to make recommendations, and we've worked diligently to fulfill our settlement agreement. We will continue improving our hospitals because it's the right thing to do. But we will dispute every allegation in this motion with facts and law.