Arizona to Make Good on Decades-Old Mental Health Obligations

Jan 8, 2014

State officials and mental health advocates approved an historic deal today to provide more services for the seriously mentally ill, bringing to an end a 33-year-old lawsuit. Arizona Public Radio’s Howard Fischer has details.

Gov. Jan Brewer provides details Wednesday of the deal reached to finally settle the 33-year-old lawsuit charging the state is not meeting its legal obligations to provide care for the seriously mentally ill.
Credit Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer

The lawsuit traces its roots to the 1970s when Arizona, like many other states, decided to deinstitutionalize the mentally ill. The idea was to provide care in the community rather than have people “warehoused” at the state hospital. But, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Bernard Dougherty ruled in 1985 these people were simply released from the hospital, with the state never setting up and funding the services they need to survive. Gov. Jan Brewer said the settlement is long overdue.

“They’re going to have coverage that they were promised for 30 years that instituted the Arnold versus Sarn case, things that we knew were necessary and important that weren’t being delivered,” Brewer said.

That includes everything from adequate medication to housing and job opportunities. And, Brewer said the lawsuit has provided, as she called it, the hammer, to ensure Arizona lives up to its obligations.

“I’m really, really proud, let me say this, that we are able to accomplish what we’ve been able to accomplish,” she said. “And I think that today we can proudly say that Arizona is the model on behavioral health across the country.”

Brewer said that is no small feat given where the state started.