Mental health care slipping
The state has until April 30 to repair a slide in compliance or face federal takeover
The state Mental Health Division has until April 30 to show it is improving services to the mentally ill or face a federal takeover, a federal judge has warned.
U.S. District Judge David Ezra gave the state one more chance yesterday to show it is complying. The latest status report submitted by the court's special master outlined "egregious" deficiencies in the state's efforts to provide community services for the mentally ill.
In December 2004, enough progress had been made for the court to release the state from a 1991 lawsuit filed by the U.S. Justice Department alleging constitutional violations in the treatment of Hawaii's mentally ill.
But the court continued to oversee a community plan for mental health services, an area the court's special master focused on in his Feb. 10 report.
"We see backsliding on all fronts. We see a lack of dedication to getting the job done by some, and we have that specter of substantial sanctions by the court as a result," Ezra said.
He agreed with Justice Department attorneys who argued that the state has failed to use "reasonable best efforts" to do what it promised to do, "and not done so pervasively."
Verlin Deerinwater, attorney in the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, asked the court to impose sanctions. But Ezra denied their request, saying the state needs an opportunity to be notified of the possible sanction it faces and needs to show the court "dramatic improvement."
Ezra said he does not mean the state has to provide the "Rolls-Royce of services," but "fundamental basic services that the state agreed to provide and did not provide."
The state had agreed last September to reach substantial compliance by June 30 for a community health plan, with federal oversight lifting on Nov. 30.
But in the special master's report, U.S. Magistrate Kevin Chang noted the state's efforts were being derailed by pervasive overcrowding that has affected the quality and quantity of services provided to mentally ill patients. The overcrowding, he said, could have "the catastrophic effect of undoing all that was achieved" by the hospital in 2004 to end federal oversight.
Ezra said he is hopeful that the state's administration, the Legislature and all involved in running the state Mental Health Division will get the message "that this indeed is their last, best and only opportunity to avoid a federal takeover."
A monetary penalty would only penalize innocent taxpayers for the state's failure to do what it was required to under the law, he said.
State Attorney General Mark Bennett said the state has made progress but still has a ways to go and will do everything in its power to comply with its obligations.
He disputed the characterization that individuals in the state Department of Health have acted with intentional disregard or wrongdoing. "These are good men and women doing their best to act in good faith," he said.