Gov. Sonny Perdue announced Tuesday that state officials signed a voluntary compliance agreement with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights that formalizes an effort to transition mentally ill and developmentally disabled Georgians out of state hospitals.
"Every Georgian who faces mental illness or developmental disabilities has the right to be treated in a way that not only ensures the best outcome, but allows for the highest quality of life," said Gov. Perdue. "We've worked hard to make this agreement work, and the state of Georgia is committed to completing this effort."
Under the Olmstead Strategic Plan, Georgia has worked for years to make quality community services more available to those with mental and developmental disabilities. The Olmstead Plan was created after a 1999 U.S. Supreme Court ruling (L.C. & E.W. vs. Olmstead) that interpreted the Americans with Disabilities Act to mean that states must provide appropriate services for the disabled in the most integrated setting (i.e., where individuals can interact with non-disabled people to the fullest extent possible).
Georgia Department of Human Resources Commissioner B.J. Walker welcomed the agreement. "We know community-based treatment solutions work, and that for many patients it's best to treat them outside of a state hospital," she said. "The Olmstead Plan is more than a standard we have to live by; it embodies our philosophy of strengthening families by doing everything we can to keep people with disabilities connected to their homes, their loved ones and their lives."
According to the agreement with the OCR, Georgia maintains its position that it did not violate the ADA or Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. As part of the agreement, the OCR is suspending its investigation of class complaints filed by a coalition of disability advocacy organizations as it works with the state to increase the delivery of community services for qualified individuals with mental and developmental disabilities.
Progress has already been made in achieving some provisions of the Olmstead Plan. Some state hospitals have been closed and many of Georgians have either been transitioned out of state hospitals or are receiving increased community services. DHR already has a policy that mentally disabled individuals hospitalized longer than 60 days be assessed at least monthly for discharge into the community.
Key provisions of the agreement include:
An Olmstead coordinator who reports to the governor and is charged with developing and implementing Georgia's Olmstead Plan objectives, as well as hearing and addressing problems, will be created.
The Olmstead coordinator, DHR and the Department of Community Health will make annual estimates of the need for community services for mentally and developmentally disabled Georgians who are institutionalized or at risk of institutionalization.
Mental health and developmental disabilities "Olmstead lists" and "transition lists" will be kept that outlines all institutionalized individuals who do not actively oppose receiving services in the community, as well as specific individuals DHR is planning to discharge into the community in a given fiscal year.
Proper notification of discharge plans for individuals.
Proper notification and explanation of denial of discharge based on determination of state treatment professionals, as well as methods of recourse available to individuals who wish to contest these decisions.