“This settlement reflects both parties’ dedication to protecting the civil rights of people with mental illness and advances the department’s philosophy of community integration,” Governor Jon S. Corzine said.
“Today’s success is possible because of Governor Corzine’s continued commitment to those living with mental illness and his financial support during these challenging fiscal times,” Velez said. The Governor has included funding for this critical initiative each year he has been in office.
The settlement agreement sets out a five-year plan for the timely discharge of state hospital patients with a status known as CEPP (Conditional Extension Pending Placement), meaning they have been determined ready for discharge but remain hospitalized because of a lack of available supportive housing.
The timeline calls for the phased discharge of the 297 patients who had been placed on CEPP status prior to July 1, 2008, and establishes an outer timeframe that newly admitted patients can be on CEPP going forward.
In the FY 2010 state budget, $5 million has been included to develop new supportive housing for the first year of the plan.
An Olmstead Advisory Committee, chaired by a representative of the Division of Mental Health Services, co-chaired by a member of the New Jersey Mental Health Planning Council, and an Olmstead Oversight Committee, will continue advising the department's implementation of the DMHS' Home to Recovery - CEPP Plan.
“It has been 10 years since the landmark Supreme Court Olmstead decision was rendered, and this agreement provides assurance for years to come that people with mental illness who may temporarily require inpatient care can continue their recovery in the community when they are ready,” said Deputy Commissioner Kevin Martone. “A person’s home is in the community, not in the state hospital.”
The lawsuit stems from a 1999 decision in which the high court ruled in favor of the National Association of Protection and Advocacy Systems’ claim that Georgia’s denial of community placements for people with disabilities violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. In 2005, Disability Rights New Jersey, joined by the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, filed a lawsuit challenging the state’s progress toward implementing Olmstead.
Consistent with the DMHS’ overall focus on wellness and recovery, the priority of the plan is to develop opportunities for community reintegration. In the past four years, the DMHS has expanded the number of supportive housing opportunities by about 800 in order to facilitate discharges and avert unnecessary hospitalization, incarceration and homelessness. Through the expansion of community services, the census at the five hospitals has decreased from 2,300 to about 1,900 since 2005.
“Today, the state hospital census is at an all time low due to a combination of community service expansion and collaboration among state leadership, consumers and providers,” Martone said. ”But we also need communities to welcome people back. Stigma and misperceptions are often barriers to successful community re-integration. People with mental illness can not only live successfully in the community, but they work, go to college, and volunteer.”
“Every day, people are recovering in New Jersey’s mental health system. We have a lot of work ahead of us, but together we are heading in the right direction,” Martone said.
In commemorating the 10th anniversary of Olmstead on June 22, federal Health and Human Services’ Secretary Kathleen Sebelius noted that President Obama has declared 2009 as the “Year of Community Living” and called upon public agencies, advocates and providers to work together to prevent the unnecessary institutionalization of people with disabilities.