- Associated Press - Thursday, May 25, 2017

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - South Carolina’s mental health agency is needlessly hospitalizing people with a variety of mental problems instead of providing them in-home services, according to a lawsuit filed this week by a group that advocates for patients with disabilities.

In a federal class-action lawsuit filed Wednesday, Protection and Advocacy for People with Disabilities said that the state’s Department of Mental Health has been unnecessarily hospitalizing men and women with disabilities at a Columbia facility instead of providing them with services in their homes. The patients include people with issues such as traumatic brain injury, intellectual disability and schizophrenia.

At Columbia’s Werber Bryan Psychiatric Hospital, described in the suit as the largest of its kind in the Carolinas in Georgia, Mental Health has “segregated and isolated” such people, according to the lawsuit. Average stays in part of the hospital can exceed 800 days, according to the suit, which wouldn’t be necessary if people were allowed to leave and receive continuing in-home care.

Instead, the suit alleges, residents wait months or years for release due to a shortage in community treatment options. One of the six plaintiffs, a 26-year-old woman who came to Bryan at age 19, aspires to get a job and write poetry if and when she’s ultimately released.

Instead of spending more than $500 per day institutionalizing people, the lawsuit claims, the department should make more funds available for clinical options in the community, like mobile treatment centers.



“These long hospitalizations have a negative impact on the physical and mental health of the patients,” Protection and Advocacy executive director Gloria Prevost said. “Time spent isolated, away from family and friends, leads to a physical and mental decline - the longer the residents live in this environment, the more disconnected they become from the community and any supports and resources that they had there.”

Citing a 1999 U.S. Supreme Court decision in which the high court ruled segregation of people with disabilities violates the Americans with Disabilities Act, the suit accuses the agency of “a long, unfortunate history of confining people with mental disabilities to isolated asylums.”

A Department of Mental Health spokeswoman didn’t immediately return an email message Thursday seeking comment on the suit, a class-action complaint filed on behalf of six inmates.

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Kinnard can be reached at https://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP. Read more of her work at https://apnews.com/search/meg%20kinnard.

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