State ordered to submit plan for mental health services

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JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A federal judge has ordered Mississippi to file a plan to upgrade its mental health services as part of resolving litigation that’s been ongoing for at least half a decade.

U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves last month ordered attorneys representing the state to file a systematic plan by April 30 to improve the state’s mental health services.

The state can either file an agreed-upon plan with the federal government or file a separate one if the state and federal government disagree on a remedial plan.

If Mississippi submits a jointly agreed plan with the federal government, that plan would mostly likely be the order the court agrees to, The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal reported.

The state was forced to enter into a remedial process after Judge Reeves ruled in September 2019 that Mississippi was in violation of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act because there were inadequate resources in Mississippi communities to treat people with mental illnesses effectively.

“Despite the state’s episodic improvement, it operates a system that unlawfully discriminates against persons with serious mental illness,” Reeves said in the opinion.

The opinion concluded that Mississippians with mental illness were essentially being segregated to state-run hospitals instead of being treated within community centers.

The federal government first filed suit against the state over the services in 2016.

If the state’s attorneys cannot reach common ground, the Justice Department will file a separate proposed solution no later than 21 days after the state submits its own proposal.

Michael Hogan, the appointed special master who is ensuring the court’s wishes are carried out during the litigation, will have a chance to weigh in on any potential disagreements by June 4.

If the parties disagree on a plan to improve the state’s mental health services, Reeves will then issue a new order on which party’s plan he agrees with more.

Reeves’s timeline comes after federal and state attorneys admitted during a Feb. 23 status conference that both parties mostly agree on how to improve the services, but a major point of contention is who will actually monitor the progress the state agrees to carry out.

“We have all but dotted our i’s and crossed our t’s on the substantive components of the court’s remedial order,” said Deena Fox, the lead attorney from the Department of Justice.

However, Fox said the department was not yet able to agree to monitoring and enforcement provisions of an agreement.

The attorneys are to return to court in June.

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