Judge finds no violations of mental patients' rights

September 28, 2001|By Michael Scarcella | Michael Scarcella,SUN STAFF

A lawsuit brought against the state by a dozen psychiatric patients claiming that institutionalization violated rights guaranteed them under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act was rejected yesterday by a U.S. District Court judge more than three years after the case was tried.

The 12 plaintiffs - described as "traumatically brain injured" or "nonretarded developmentally disabled" - sought to be removed from state psychiatric facilities on grounds that they were not beneficial to treatment and violated their due process rights, said Philip J. Fornaci, executive director of the Maryland Disability Law Center, which represented them.

"Psychiatric hospitals did not make them any better," Fornaci said last night. "They were regressing. They were being warehoused, not rehabilitated."

The federal law states that no person with disabilities can be excluded from participation in, or denied the benefits of, public services and programs. The plaintiffs argued that they were being denied community-based programs based on their disabilities, Fornaci said.

The causes of their mental conditions included a head injury in a motorcycle accident, genetically based developmental disorders and a bacterial infection that led to severe brain damage.

The state, in its defense, said the brain injuries incurred by the plaintiffs "have rendered them very difficult to care for" and that they had symptoms including "low frustration tolerance, proneness to irritability, [and] difficulty planning and directing behavior."

Judge Catherine C. Blake's 84-page opinion noted that the trial lasted 32 days and that the case "raises complex medical, social and fiscal issues not easily addressed by litigation."

She found that the plaintiffs had failed to provide sufficient evidence that community treatment was more beneficial and cost-effective than institutional care.

"The plaintiffs' pain and frustration was genuine and understandable; the defendants' efforts to provide a stable, safe, and caring environment also were genuine and commendable, if not always successful," she wrote.

"The state has managed to make them seem like monsters," Fornaci said of the mental patients. "What's made them difficult is that they don't belong in state psychiatric facilities."

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