N.H. AG: State's mental health system complies with ADA

Jessica M. Karmasek Dec. 8, 2011, 12:55pm


CONCORD, N.H. (Legal Newsline) - New Hampshire Attorney General Michael Delaney says he disagrees with allegations by the U.S. Department of Justice that the state is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Delaney, along with Nicholas A. Toumpas, commissioner of the state's Department of Health and Human Services, issued a formal response Tuesday to the DOJ's review of the state's mental health system.

The Attorney General's Office contends the DOJ spent only two days in New Hampshire assessing the state's mental health system, including a one-day visit to the Glencliff Home and a partial day visit to New Hampshire Hospital.

Still, the federal government issued a letter in April alleging that the mental health system there was not in compliance with the ADA, failing to provide mental health services to people with mental illness in the "most integrated setting appropriate to their needs."

The ADA, signed into law in 1990, is a civil rights law that prohibits, under certain circumstances, discrimination based on disability.

Delaney said he previously deferred issuing a written response to the DOJ's letter in light of the federal government's request for discussion about the allegations.

New Hampshire's five-page letter to U.S. Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez follows six months of discussion between the parties.

Delaney argues that the state's mental health system "fully complies" with the ADA.

In 2008, New Hampshire "undertook a critical analysis" of the system and concluded that improvements needed to be made, the attorney general explained.

Soon after, the state issued a 10-year plan to continue to improve mental health services and New Hampshire has "made significant progress" implementing the plan, he wrote Perez.

Delaney said the state also is employing a plan, endorsed by the federal government, to rebalance funding between institutional care and community-based care.

"New Hampshire is only three years into implementing the 10-year plan," he wrote. "It is disappointing that, at a time when this state and this nation are facing the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, your office has taken this action."

The attorney general also argues that many of the DOJ's findings are drawn directly from the state's own critical analysis of the system, and that it "mischaracterized" statements in those reports.

"New Hampshire remains committed to serving people who have mental illness in a setting that maximizes individual freedom and autonomy," Delaney wrote. "We believe that the most effective way to accomplish that goal is to stay focused on the implementation of the 10-year plan."

In his letter, the attorney general asks that the DOJ withdraw its "erroneous" findings.

"The threatened litigation by the federal government and federally funded advocates will waste precious state and federal taxpayer dollars that could be better spent on providing services," he wrote.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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