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With the launch of 988, the Bazelon Center acknowledges that this is a step in the right direction. However, this alone is not enough. 988 call centers are only part of what is needed to help people with mental illness, especially in BIPOC communities that experience over-policing and involuntary hospitalization.
The Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law congratulates Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson on her historic, bipartisan appointment to the United States Supreme Court. In addition to being the first Black woman to join our nation’s highest court, her experience as a public defender and her strong judicial record, demonstrating her thorough approach to decisionmaking and deep understanding of disability rights and other civil rights matters, are all cause for celebrating our new Justice Jackson, a voice on the Court that is long overdue. She is the representation that so many of us have been looking for, and deserve, and we joyfully celebrate this historic moment as she paves the way for future generations to bring equity and true justice for all.
The Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law advocates for the civil rights, full inclusion, and equality of children and adults with mental disabilities.
The Bazelon Center, standing in solidarity, calls for justice in the wake of the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Daniel Prude, and so many other Black Americans. The deaths and injuries, and unjust treatment, of people of color at the hands of law enforcement, the courts, and jails and prisons will continue until the forces that perpetuate racial bias and hatred are dismantled. We will continue to fight to end systemic racism. We all must do better.
The motion includes numerous first-hand accounts of how DC families struggle to obtain needed intensive mental health services for their children. Parents have recounted how their children have cycled through both DC and outside residential institutions, where one child was physically abused, while another contracted COVID-19. An advocate noted that many of her clients have been hospitalized 10 or more times for extended stays of 30 to 90 days.
The Bazelon Center is working tirelessly to ensure that the motion passes for certification of a class action lawsuit. It is vital and crucial to defend and support children with mental health disabilities who too often get taken advantage of and abused by the medical system.
The Center also wishes to work with the District to ensure home- and community-based services for children, as these help prevent needless institutionalization and later incarceration.
See the motion (PDF) here. See the press release (PDF) here. See the Washington Post article here.
See Disability Rights D.C.’s Report
CVS Health, the American Association of People with Disabilities, the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, and the National Council on Independent Living today announced that they are working together to seek policy solutions to protect equitable access to health care for all Americans and continue to protect the fundamental rights of people with disabilities. Read our full joint statement (PDF) here. Access the Writ of Certiorari Dismissed document (PDF) here.
The Bazelon Center and its partners had concerns about what was happening in Alameda County. That and the lawsuit we filed prompted an unprecedented investigation by the U.S.
On April 22, 2021, The U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division issued a letter of findings concluding that Alameda County’s mental health system is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and that conditions at the county’s Santa Rita Jail violate the U.S. Constitution and the ADA. This is the first-ever findings letter by DOJ that examines civil rights violations in a mental health system and a jail, and the relationship between the two.
Read the amended complaint (PDF) here. See a video providing an overview of the lawsuit we filed with partners. The video personal stories of people who have faced institutionalization in Alameda County.
April 26, 2023 – Over ten million people with disabilities are enrolled in Medicaid, making it the largest provider of health care to people with disabilities, including people with mental health disabilities, in the United States. Without Medicaid, many people with disabilities would lose the services and supports they need to live independently in their own homes and communities and enjoy the same opportunities in life that everyone else has. Despite its overwhelming popularity, Medicaid is under attack. The House of Representatives has passed a bill that would require people to work to keep their Medicaid coverage. Medicaid work requirements will mean millions of people will lose health care. Doing this will not increase employment, but will hurt people with disabilities. Learn more from our explainer (PDF) here.
March 28, 2023 – The Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, a national legal advocacy organization advancing the rights of people with mental disabilities, today announced the appointment of Megan Schuller as the organization’s new Legal Director. Ira Burnim, the Bazelon Center’s longtime Legal Director, will remain on staff as a Senior Counse. Schuller joins the Bazelon Center from the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), where she spent over a decade focused on disability rights, systemic reform of public service systems, and high-impact litigation. Throughout her successful career, the majority of Schuller’s cases involved discrimination against people with mental disabilities. Access the full release here (PDF).
March 22, 2023 – The Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law commends the Department of Justice for its investigation, following the killing of Breonna Taylor, of the Louisville/Jefferson County Metro Government (Louisville Metro) and Louisville Metro Police Department (LMPD), and its release on March 8th of a comprehensive report detailing its findings. The report describes significant problems with the LMPD’s practices, including the use of inappropriate and deadly force in its encounters with Louisville residents that violates the U.S. Constitution and racially discriminatory conduct that violates Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. Read our full statement (PDF) here.
December 12, 2022 – The Bazelon Center and Coalition partners have issued a joint statement opposing New York City Mayor Eric Adams’ plan to increase involuntary hospitalization for New Yorkers living with disabilities. Last month, Mayor Adams announced a new directive to New York’s police officers, EMTs, and street outreach workers to transport individuals to psychiatric hospitals involuntarily when it appears that they cannot “meet their basic needs.” The Mayor provided as examples individuals who are “mumbling,” “shadow boxing,” or merely standing on the street for too long. The joint statement raises a number of concerns with the Mayor’s plan, including the lack of evidence that involuntary court-ordered treatment is any more effective at helping people with mental disabilities live successfully in the community than engagement in the voluntary services, like help finding and maintaining a home, that people want and need. The statement also notes that people who are involuntarily committed are less likely to disclose suicidal feelings, and more likely to commit suicide. The 292 organizations and individuals signing the joint statement call on the Mayor to develop a comprehensive plan to provide homeless New Yorkers with disabilities the housing and voluntary services they want and need. Read the full release (PDF) here. Read our full statement (PDF) here.
November 30, 2022 –The Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, Disability Rights Connecticut, and Elis for Rachael filed a lawsuit against Yale University to end the alleged discriminatory, unlawful, and harmful treatment of students with mental health disabilities. Some of the many concerns include:
November 16, 2022 – The Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, Mental Health America, and the University of Pittsburgh have been selected for the highly competitive PCORI Engagement Awards program. The $100,000 funding award was created through the Eugene Washington Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) initiative. This joint project focuses on creating research priorities for the college campus mental health crisis. Students are experiencing unprecedented mental health crises, jeopardizing educational outcomes, especially for underrepresented students. This collaboration brings attention to coercion and the role of police and crisis response teams in student reintegration, a topic that has been neglected within peripheral research. Through this research, the Bazelon Center and partners will create solutions that break barriers faced by BIPOC students with mental health disabilities. “It is long past time for Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and Asian students with mental health disabilities and lived experiences with the mental health systems to be centered in research,” said Jalyn Radziminski. “Through this work, we hope to uplift these voices to contribute to academia and, eventually, long-term solutions that address the barriers we face in education settings.” Access the press release here.
October 14, 2022 – The Bazelon Center and over 100 civil and human rights organizations issued a joint coalition letter to Congress opposing the EAGLES Act. The EAGLES Act advances a false and harmful connection between mental health disability and gun violence. The bill authorizes the Department of Homeland Security, which administers our country’s border security and counterterrorism efforts, to bring this framework to our nation’s schools, including through support for “threat assessment” programs that stigmatize youth and inappropriately involve police in making decisions about students. The safety and achievement of disabled and BIPOC students are put at greater risk by an ongoing police presence on campus; this leads to higher rates of suspensions and referrals to law enforcement for disabled and BIPOC students than for other students. Historically marginalized students, such as those living at the intersection of race and disability, will bear the brunt of these harmful practices. Community-led initiatives, developed and implemented by teachers, students, parents, and administrators, such as trauma-informed schools, restorative practices, and schoolwide positive behavior supports, are what schools need to support student behavior and build a safe and welcoming school climate – not school-based police and other punitive approaches. Access the Opposition Letter here
October 4th, 2022 – This summer, Congress enacted the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which will send millions of federal dollars to states and localities to fund mental health services, including services to our children and youth in their schools and communities. The federal government is sending this money to state governments now, and now is the time for advocates to tell government officials how it should be spent.
Today the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law releases its Bipartisan Safer Communities Act Advocacy Toolkit. The Toolkit explains the different federal programs that provide money to states and localities under the Act, and provides sample social media messaging and draft action alerts, for people with disabilities and their families, friends, and advocates to use in their communications with policymakers. We want these federal dollars to go to programs that help adults and children with mental disabilities live independently and successfully in their own homes, schools, and communities!
Access our Toolkit (PDF) here.
September 30th, 2022 – The Bazelon Center is ongoingly working with numerous disability and civil rights groups to support the estate of Gorgi Talevski, who alleges that the Health and Hospital Corporation of Marion County, Indiana (HHC) abused and neglected him while in a nursing home. The Bazelon Center and five other disability rights organizations filed an Amicus Brief on September 23rd to explain the importance of an individual’s ability to sue state and local governments when their civil rights are violated under public programs such as Medicaid. Private lawsuits are pertinent to hold government agencies accountable for civil rights violations. case. If providers of Medicaid services abuse or mistreat beneficiaries or take away or deny their benefits, private lawsuits are often the only way to hold government entities accountable and ensure people get the life-saving therapies and everyday living support services they need. Full access to Medicaid services and the right to enforce these services are crucial to achieving community integration for people with disabilities. The brief urges the Supreme Court to reaffirm the private right of action to enforce public program guarantees and disability rights. Access the press release (PDF) here.
Access the amicus brief (PDF) here.
September 20, 2022 – Join the Bazelon Center’s Efforts to stop the dangerous Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) case, Health and Hospital Corporation of Marion County (HHC) V. Talevski, that could undermine Medicaid & other safety net programs. Civil Rights and Disability Rights organizations are sounding the alarm and urging immediate action to keep this case out of the Supreme Court. Take action and share our alert here. Access our fact sheet (PDF) here.
July 6, 2022 – The neutral expert team jointly-appointed by parties involved in J.N. v. Oregon Department of Education has submitted its report on the use of shortened school days and recommended actions for the Oregon Department of Education to take to ensure that all children receive an appropriate education in full days of school. All parties are reviewing the report and are moving into the second phase of settlement discussions to attempt to reach a comprehensive settlement in light of these findings and recommendations. Read the full release here. Read the full report here.
June 24, 2022 – Today’s Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization exacerbates an inaccessible healthcare system and removes key federal protections for people with disabilities to make their own decisions about their health and their families. The Bazelon Center joins our disability rights partners in opposition to this unjust and harmful opinion. We call on Congress to act now to protect these important rights. Read our Statement (PDF) here. Read our joint statement with disability rights partners (PDF) here.
June 24, 2022 – The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act follows devastating mass shootings in Buffalo, NY; Uvalde, TX; Tulsa, OK; and more. We appreciate the urgent need to address gun violence in America. Among other things, the Act includes critical funding for mental health programs that people with mental health disabilities need and will benefit from. However, People with mental health disabilities are the wrong focus for gun safety measures, and we have grave concerns about the Act’s premise.
Despite the fact that less than five percent of violence is committed by people with mental health disabilities, and that such individuals are far more likely to be victims of violent crime than perpetrators of it, the Act inappropriately links mental health, and the need for mental health services, to gun violence. The Act will contribute to the fear and stigma of these Americans and, we fear, makes their institutionalization and criminalization more likely. Read the full statement here.
June 14, 2022 – This year will see the rollout of “988,” the new three-digit number for calls to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. 988 has been touted as the new “mental health 911.” The federal government and many states and localities are touting 988 as an alternative to and resource for the 911 system, to reduce the number of calls involving people with mental health issues to which the police are sent. We appreciate the support for 988 as part of a more effective response to people experiencing mental health crises. But 988 alone is not enough. More, and more effective, 988 call centers are only part of what is needed to help people with serious mental health issues, especially Black and Brown people who have experienced trauma from over-policing. We also need mobile crisis teams that can timely travel to help de-escalate a situation, and we need community crisis stabilization centers for those times when people need somewhere to go for help. We also need robust longer-term services, including intensive case management, peer services, Assertive Community Treatment (ACT), supported employment, and supported housing, and for children and youth “wraparound” services. These services help people with serious mental health issues live successfully in their own homes and communities—and avoid crisis situations. This paper proposes a vision for a truly community-based response to people with urgent behavioral health needs. 988 can be part of this response but is only a part of what we really need. Read the full report here.
June 14, 2022 – The Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law and other national organizations voice strong opposition to the proposed CARE Court program, which promotes an unethical framework of involuntary, coerced treatment, perpetuates systemic racism, and worsens mental health disparities. Such an expanded judicial infrastructure would violate the human rights of those who live with disabilities, neglect the constitutional right to due process, and divert attention from access to mental health care. Policymakers in California must make it their prerogative to invest in community-based practices that empower those with disabilities in their recoveries and allow them to exert self-direction without the intrusion of a court. Read the full letter here.
June 8, 2022 – Disability Rights DC reveals how city youth with severe mental health challenges are cycled through psychiatric hospitals and other treatment facilities, for months or years at a time, which separates them from their families and disrupts their education. The report calls attention to a pattern of institutionalization, in which children are discharged without adequate access to outside support such as counseling, leading them to return to said facilities. Lewis Bossing, Senior Staff Attorney at the Bazelon Center, stresses the importance of mobile crisis response tools, which have proven effective in communities that have adopted them. Read the full article here. Read the full report here.
April 28, 2022 – “We are saddened by the Court’s decision to weaken the protections for people with disabilities in the Rehabilitation Act and the Affordable Care Act. Americans with disabilities rely on the protections of these federal statutes to live, work, learn, and access healthcare free from discrimination. Nearly 50 years since the passage of the Rehabilitation Act, too many people with disabilities continue to face isolation and humiliation as a result of discrimination. We hope that Congress or a future Supreme Court will revisit this issue and reverse this decision, which misunderstands the intent behind these vitally important civil rights statutes. In the meantime, we will work to ensure that our federal judiciary better reflects the people of this nation to whom our courts should be accountable, including the millions of people with disabilities, and that our judges better understand and fairly adjudicate our critical civil and disability rights laws. Read the full statement here.
April 28, 2022 – Students with disabilities are entitled to a free and appropriate public education that meets their needs—especially during the COVID pandemic. The Bazelon Center commends the Department of Education Office for Civil Rights for its investigation and resolution of violations of federal law against the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). LAUSD failed to provide its students with disabilities with an appropriate education in the least restrictive environment during the pandemic. Under a resolution agreement, LAUSD will provide students with disabilities with compensatory education that will help them catch up to where they should have been. Thousands of children with disabilities in the nation’s second largest school district will have a chance to get the education and services they need to be successful in school and as they transition to adulthood. As we approach what we hope is the end of the pandemic, we call on all school districts to ensure that children with disabilities get the supports they need to make up for any learning loss due to COVID-related disruptions in their education. Read the Office for Civil Rights letter to LAUSD here, and the resolution agreement here.
April 7, 2022 – The Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law congratulates Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson on her historic, bipartisan appointment to the United States Supreme Court. In addition to being the first Black woman to join our nation’s highest court, her experience as a public defender and her strong judicial record, demonstrating her thorough approach to decisionmaking and deep understanding of disability rights and other civil rights matters, are all cause for celebrating our new Justice Jackson, a voice on the Court that is long overdue. She is the representation that so many of us have been looking for, and deserve, and we joyfully celebrate this historic moment as she paves the way for future generations to bring equity and true justice for all. Read our alert here.
April 6, 2022 – Judge Jackson has demonstrated an understanding of disability rights and other civil rights laws and their importance to people with disabilities—and a steadfast commitment to fair, thorough adjudication of their legal claims. Judge Jackson will be a Supreme Court Justice who understands the importance of disability and other civil rights laws and who is committed to a fair day in court for people bringing claims under these laws. Based on her judicial record and other professional experience, we strongly urge the Senate Judiciary Committee to confirm Judge Jackson to the Supreme Court as we believe she will be a much needed voice for those with disabilities. Read our full letter (PDF) here.
March 29, 2022 – The Bazelon Center and 68 other civil rights organizations, urge Senators and assembly members to protect the rights of New Yorkers with mental disabilities and to reject Governor Hochul’s recent proposal to expand forced psychiatric commitment laws. Studies show that there is no indication of forced outpatient treatment being successful. Forced treatment has only been shown to result in the undermining of therapeutic relationships and in long-lasting trauma, specifically of Black and Brown individuals. We must not criminalize mental illness or scapegoat individuals who have mental illness. It is simply untrue that individuals with mental illness are more violent than those who do not have mental illness, and we should not be developing legislation to combat the horrific violent acts of but a few individuals. Instead, we are urging New York to invest in multiple models of less invasive, voluntary care to avoid the trauma, as well as the enormous cost, of forced treatment. We must not expand a program that forces New Yorkers into the same services that have already failed them in the past. Read our full letter (PDF) here.
March 22, 2022 – On March 22, in response to the recent outbreak of state laws and policies that attempt to strip protections from immigrant children, the Bazelon Center and 40 other Children’s Advocacy Organizations unite to demand an end to attacks on immigrant children and the dangerous misinformation campaigns about these children and their families in the United States and at the border. The organizations are working to create policies that ensure that unaccompanied children are treated fairly and that their basic needs of safety and family unity are met.. Our laws and policies must and should ensure that unaccompanied children have what all children need: safety, family unity, and the opportunity to reach their full potential. Read the full letter (PDF) here.
March 18, 2022 – After releasing our preliminary review of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s previous court decisions, 45 organizations have signed on to our statement. These organizations support our research and want to voice their support for her confirmation. We all agree that Judge Jackson has a track record demonstrating her understanding of the importance of disability and other civil rights laws. She has continually proven that she is fair in her application of the law and is committed to upholding justice for everyone. We are urging for the swift confirmation of Judge Jackson as we believe she will be a much needed voice on the Supreme Court and will continue advocating for those with disabilities. Read our alert and letter (PDF) here.
March 11, 2022 – After the Bazelon Center’s preliminary review, we believe that Judge Jackson will be a Supreme Court Justice who understands the importance of disability and other civil rights laws, and who is committed to a fair day in court for people bringing claims under these laws. Judge Jackon’s track record shows that she understands how civil rights laws are intended to have a broad effect on the relationships between persons with disabilities and other historically marginalized populations with covered entities like employers, schools, state agencies, and public accommodations. She has proven to be thorough and careful in her approach to applying the law and demonstrates a deep commitment to the justice of marginalized communities. Based on everything we know so far, we enthusiastically support Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s nomination for the Supreme Court. Read our full research memo (PDF) here.
March 7, 2022 – The Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law and over 100 other disability organizations urge the Department of Justice to finalize a rule for digital accessibility regulations. The absence of digital accessibility regulations during the current time period has resulted in the persistent exclusion of people with disabilities from digital spaces covered by the ADA. This persisting issue has created barriers for the disability community when it comes to realms such as healthcare accessibility, applying to jobs, attending school, applying for public benefits, and more. The current COVID 19 pandemic has exacerbated this exclusion making it harder than ever for those with disabilities to have full accessibility to the ever changing landscape of websites and applications. The large and diverse disability community needs action to be taken in order for them to have equal access and opportunities when it comes to the digital world. We are urging Assistant Attorney General Clarke to take action and finalize a rule by the end of the current administration. Read the full letter (PDF) here.
March 2, 2022 – The Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law enthusiastically commends President Joe Biden for including a bipartisan mental health strategy in his first State of the Union address. In his address, Biden stated, “Let’s take on mental health. Especially among our children, whose lives and education have been turned upside down.” We could not agree more. It is clear that the nation’s mental health care systems must be bolstered to address the systematic inequities in access to mental health resources, especially for Black and Brown people that have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. President Biden’s plan is a comprehensive blueprint for community-based mental health services. It includes initiatives such as investing in peer support and mobile crisis services, integrating mental health and substance use providers into community-based settings, expanding access to mental health support in schools, colleges, and universities, supporting our mental health workforce, and increasing mental health resources for justice-involved populations. Read our full statement (PDF) here.
February 25, 2022 – The Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law congratulates the White House and Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson on her nomination to the United States Supreme Court. The nomination of a Black woman to our nation’s highest court is long overdue. Judge Brown Jackson’s professional experience, including as a public defender in the District of Columbia, demonstrates a commitment to ensuring a fair day in court for all – including the District’s Black and Brown people with disabilities, on whose behalf we have advocated for years. We are also heartened by the fact that among Judge Brown Jackson’s judicial opinions are several cases demonstrating an understanding of disability rights, and the important protections they afford to people with disabilities.The Bazelon Center celebrates her historic nomination. Read our full statement (PDF) here.
February 22, 2022 – As the time approaches for President Biden to announce his nominee for the United States Supreme Court, the Bazelon Center and its partners are urging for the selection of a nominee who will uphold the rights of people with disabilities. For the last 28 years, Justice Stephen Breyer has been a voice on the Supreme Court for people with disabilities, ensuring that their rights are protected. Over 20 individuals and organizations signed on to the letter asking President Biden to fulfill his promise in selecting a Black woman as a Supreme Court justice nominee. There are many Black women judges and lawyers who are highly qualified for the Court, and who have demonstrated an understanding of and commitment to a fair day in court for people with disabilities and other historically marginalized populations. We are asking Biden to select a nominee who, like Justice Breyer, will interpret disability rights laws broadly, as Congress intended, and who understands the impact of Supreme Court decisions on people with disabilities. Read the full letter (PDF) here.
February 22, 2022 – The Bazelon Center has signed on with APRAIS, The Alliance to Prevent Restraint, Aversive Interventions, and Seclusion, to deliver a letter before the Education & Labor Committee U.S. House of Representatives. The APRAIS coalition advocates for ending restraint and seclusion in U.S. schools to ensure all students can attend school without fearing for their safety. These practices of restraint and seclusion are used disproportionately against students with disabilities, BIPOC students, and students at the intersection of race and disability. The coalition has had a primary focus on the enactment of the Keeping All Student Safe Act (H.R. 3474/S. 1858). This comprehensive legislation, which would allow schools, districts, and states to have a set of federal standards for restraint and seclusion, has yet to be passed by Congress. Along with the KASSA, APRAIS is also advocating for the passing of the Protecting Our Students in Schools Act (H.R. 3836/S. 2029) to eliminate corporal punishment and the Counseling Not Criminalization Act (H.R. 4011/S. 2125) to stop funding law enforcement in schools. If passed by Congress, these bills would support healthier and more supportive school environments as well as protect students and support schools. Read the full letter (PDF) here.
February 14, 2022 – As the time approaches for President Biden to announce his nominee for the United States Supreme Court, the Bazelon Center is urging for the selection of a nominee who will uphold the rights of people with disabilities. For the last 28 years, Justice Stephen Breyer has been a voice on the Supreme Court for people with disabilities, ensuring that their rights are protected. We are asking President Biden to select a nominee who will continue on the path that Breyer has laid out for those with disabilities. We are pushing for a justice who will respect the role of Congress in protecting disability rights, understand the impact of Supreme Court decisions in protecting disability rights, respect precedent, and understand intersectionality. Read our alert here.
February 8, 2022 – The Bazelon Center and 9 other disability and immigration rights groups filed a brief, in response to an invitation by the Attorney General, urging that mental health evidence be considered when determining whether an individual seeking asylum is disqualified because of a conviction for a “particularly serious crime.” Mental health evidence often demonstrates that the offense at issue is not “particularly serious.” Not allowing such evidence discriminates against people with disabilities, depriving them of an equal opportunity to obtain asylum, in violation of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Read the full brief (PDF) here.
January 27, 2022 – The Bazelon Center joined fellow members of the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD) to send a letter in response to the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) comment opportunity for their proposed rule: Notice of Benefit and Payment Parameters for 2023. The letter provides substantial comments on different aspects of the proposed rules governing marketplace plans and explains how HHS’ interpretation of the Affordable Care Act’s commitment to nondiscrimination and essential health benefits will impact the diverse population of people with disabilities and chronic health needs.
The letter makes recommendations in a number of areas including support for: insurers’ obligation to comply with nondiscrimination requirements, ending the substitution of essential health benefits, collecting demographic data, and allowing individuals to enroll in coverage even if they have past-due premiums. Read the full letter and signatories (PDF) here.
The Bazelon Center also wrote separately with Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund (DREDF) to provide HHS with specific examples of discriminatory plan designs-including plans that opt to only cover certain services (or cover more services) for people with disabilities in segregated settings; to advocate for a framework to support a charge of benefit design discrimination that makes room for newer, but medically necessary and evidence-based services for people with disabilities- like peer support or long COVID treatments; and to discuss how the substitution of essential health benefits specifically harms access to behavioral health services. Read the full letter (PDF) here.
January 27, 2022 – The Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law congratulates Justice Stephen G. Breyer on his retirement from the United States Supreme Court after almost 28 years of distinguished service. Justice Breyer has been a strong voice for disability rights and other civil rights during his time on the Court. His track record includes upholding and clarifying the ADA, the Affordable Care Act, Olmstead, standards to educate students with disabilities, and more. With Justice Breyer’s retirement, President Biden now has the opportunity to select and have a new Supreme Court Justice confirmed by the Senate. President Biden has stated that he will appoint a Black woman to the Supreme Court. This is something that the Bazelon Center applauds. We urge President Biden to appoint a nominee who, like Justice Breyer, would interpret disability rights statutes broadly, as Congress intended, and who is aware of the impact of Supreme Court judgments on disabled persons. Read our full statement (PDF) here.
December 6, 2021 – Jennifer Mathis, Director of Policy & Legal Advocacy at the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law & Deputy Legal Director, joined the Biden Administration as a Deputy Assistant Attorney General at the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, where she will help lead its disability rights work. Mathis supervised the Center’s policy advocacy and litigated complex lawsuits establishing the rights of individuals with mental disabilities. Her work promoted community integration and affording people with psychiatric disabilities the opportunity to lead the same kinds of lives as people without disabilities. Mathis helped coordinate the disability community’s efforts in the Supreme Court in the Olmstead case and has successfully litigated integration cases in states across the country. Read the Press Release (PDF) here.
November 17, 2021 – California has failed to divert from jail people with psychiatric disabilities and fails to provide constitutionally sufficient mental health care to the tens of thousands of people languishing in California’s prisons. The incarceration of people with psychiatric disabilities does a disservice to both the individuals and the public. The Bazelon Center and 16 other civil, human, and disability rights organizations have provided recommendations and guidance to California’s Governor and others on the decarceration of people with mental illness, including those deemed incompetent to stand trial. Read the recommendations (PDF) here.
CVS Health, the American Association of People with Disabilities, the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, and the National Council on Independent Living today announced that they are working together to seek policy solutions to protect equitable access to health care for all Americans and continue to protect the fundamental rights of people with disabilities. Read our full joint statement (PDF) here. Access the Writ of Certiorari Dismissed document (PDF) here.
October 29, 2021 – The Bazelon Center, disability rights groups, and civil rights groups file amicus briefs to the urge Supreme Court to uphold protections against disability discrimination by rejecting CVS’ attempt to dismantle non-discrimination protections under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. The case, CVS v. Doe, involves a CVS-managed prescription drug plan that requires people who need “specialty medications” to receive them by mail, instead of at their local pharmacy. Five individuals living with HIV sued over the requirement, arguing that it effectively prevents them from receiving needed care for their condition and represents discrimination based on their disability. CVS is arguing in the case that Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act does not protect against claims of “disparate impact,” or when neutral policies or practices have disproportionate impacts on a protected class, in this case people with disabilities. CVS’ position is not only legally wrong, but threatens the rights of people with disabilities everywhere. Read our Amicus Brief (PDF) here. Read our press release (PDF) here.
The Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law and fellow advocates for children with disabilities have reached an interim settlement agreement as part of a class action lawsuit with the Oregon Department of Education (ODE). The agreement outlines the parties’ commitment to ensuring that Oregon students with disabilities who have been placed on shortened school days because of their behavior receive a free appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment. It also requires the parties to select an expert to examine the use of shortened school days across the state, and to provide recommendations on what actions, if any, ODE should take to ensure that children with disabilities receive an appropriate education for a full school day whenever possible. The Bazelon Center filed the lawsuit in 2019 along with the National Center for Youth Law, the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA), Disability Rights Oregon, and pro bono attorneys. The plaintiffs, including COPAA and four individual students, are “heartened by this interim agreement” which they hope will lead to systemic changes ensuring that students with behavior-related disabilities are included in school for a full day with their classmates. Read the press release (PDF) here. Read the Interim Settlement Agreement (PDF) here.
On August 27, 2021, the lawsuit filed by the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, Mountain State Justice, Disability Rights of West Virginia, The Arc of the United States, and the law firm Latham Watkins LLP for two Kanawha County students with disabilities was certified as a class-action lawsuit. See the case (PDF) here. See the press release (PDF) here.
Judge Berger’s decision that the case should focus on all children removed from their classrooms for behavior related to their disabilities will expand its impact to hundreds of Kanawha County’s students. Lewis Bossing, Senior Staff Attorney of the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, says “Judge Berger’s opinion makes clear that KCS’s failures to support its students with disabilities are systemic, and that systemic changes are needed. We hope that KCS will work with us to address the problems that Judge Berger has identified.
The judge suggested parties try to negotiate a resolution. If parties are unable to resolve their differences, the trial will be scheduled August 2022.
On August 24th, 2021, The Bazelon Center joined the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD) Rights and Housing Task Forces to support HUD’s proposal to withdraw the 2020 rule’s applications to disparate impact discrimination and reinstate it’s 2013 rule. The 2020 rule created overwhelming obstacles and shifted the burden onto communities the Fair Housing Act was to protect. For example, those who face discrimination are burdened with proving that a less discriminatory policy would be equally effective or not as costly, which is information that only the entity, not those who are being discriminated against, have access to.
HUD itself has noted that this new rule did not clarify any part of the previously established discriminatory effects framework from 2013 but instead “introduced new concepts that had never been part of disparate-impact caselaw without fully explaining their meaning.” Those with disabilities are already facing a national shortage of accessible and affordable housing, and withdrawing the 2020 rule to return to the 2013 rule would help fight this disparity.
The 2013 Rule would return to the decades of legal precedent from both courts and HUD itself of interpreting the FHA and would prohibit not just intentional discrimination but policies that result in discrimination as well. Thankfully, due to litigation, the 2020 Rule has not taken effect, but it is important that HUD takes this step to affirm the 2013 Rule is still in effect. Read our full letter (PDF) here.
On August 23rd, 2021, The Bazelon Center joined other members of a coalition with more than 220 national organizations, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, to call upon Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act (H.R. 4). The Leadership Conference urged that we must act now, or we risk losing all progress that we have made since Congressmen Lewis and 600 others began marching in the name of equal voting rights. The Conference also argued that recent court cases like Shelby County v. Holder and Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee set a dangerous standard for voting rights moving forward. Shelby v Holder eliminated important provisions in Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that ensured changes to voting rules were public and transparent, which made voting much more simple for those with disabilities to use. This ruling has allowed other factors, such as felon disenfranchisement, voter ID laws, and restrictions to early voting, that discriminates against people with disabilities and BIPOC communities. Brnovich v Democratic National Committee disregarded the purpose of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), which was meant to protect communities against racial discrimination in voting and representation.
The Voting Rights Act has been reauthorized before in a bipartisan manner, and the Conference believes that protecting those from discrimination should be bipartisan work. H.R. 4 would restore the VRA by updating criteria for “triggers” for identifying states and localities that must obtain federal review before implementing changes in voting, provide public and easy notice to all voters, including those who are disabled or blind, of voting changes, and give the DOJ the authority to challenge changes that would lead to discrimination. The need to update voting rights has never been stronger as elements of voter suppression are on the rise. Congress must act now so that the words spoken by President Lyndon Johnson when he signed the original VRA, “today we strike away the last major shackle of … fierce and ancient bonds,” can hold full meaning. Read the full letter (PDF) here.
On August 16th, 2021, The Bazelon Center, along with the Co-chairs for the CCD Rights Task Force, released a response in support of the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) decision to revoke two Interim Final Rules, Prohibition on the Issuance of Improper Guidance Documents Within the Justice Department and the Processes and Procedures for Issuance and Use of Guidance Documents rules. On November 6th, 2020, The Bazelon Center and 17 other advocacy organizations called on the DOJ to reconsider and withdraw the Interim Final Rule and Request for Comments. This Rule created a public comment process for any guidance that went through the DOJ. Further, the Rule limited the DOJ’s ability to issue necessary guidance on a timely basis to stakeholders about compliance with laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and more. By allowing this process, the agency’s Guidance Portal would significantly drain agency resources and create an ongoing state of uncertainty about the future of any guidance that came through. Although the Rule recognizes the importance of equal opportunity to comment by people with disabilities, there is little done to ensure this opportunity. In addition to the Interim Final Rule creating instability, uncertainty, not offering equal opportunity, stretching agency resources, limiting efficiency and the issuance of guidance, it is also in clear violation of Executive Order 13891, the Administrative Procedures Act (APA). Guidances that come from agencies do not have the force of law, unlike regulations directly related to rulemaking. The APA clearly states that notice and comment are required “only for formal rules.” The DOJ’s decision to revoke such rules validates and further confirms the “many…concerns we raised” in our November comments. Read our full letter (PDF) here.
August 3, 2021, The Bazelon Center joined 16 other organizations in a letter to Secretary Xavier Becerra urging the HHS to rescind a Trump-era rule, which expanded short-term limited duration health plans that dodge the ACA. The authors of this letter allege that the Trump Administration’s rule is unlawful in several respects. More specifically, the rule redefines “short-term” away from the plain English meaning to a 364 day period. It was also explicitly created to undermine the ACA with another alternative. By providing low, medically underwritten premiums to healthy costumers, this rule makes ACA plans increasingly expensive. Thus, we urge the HHS to rescind the 2018 rule and return to the 2016 Obama-era STLDI as it better aligns with the ACA’s language and spirit. See our letter (PDF) here.
On July 21, 2021, The Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law and over 100 organizations across the globe joined a Call to Action calling on the United Nations to recognize the right of all children to live and grow up with a family rather than in an institution or other facility. The Call to Action highlights that all children can live safely and thrive in families. It calls on the U.N. and other stakeholders to support family-based care instead of large or small institutions; to promote and enhance support services for children with disabilities and their families to facilitate the inclusion of children with disabilities in community life; to enhance implementation of other rights that prevent institutionalization such as affordable healthcare and inclusive education; and to develop and ensure access to support services in the community, including personal assistance, as well as peer support, for young persons with disabilities in their transition to adulthood. We hope these recommendations will be considered at the U.N.’s Day of General Discussion on Children’s Rights and Alternative Care in September 2021. Read our letter (PDF) here.
On July 16, 2021, the Bazelon Center submitted comments to NIST regarding voting access for people with disabilities. A large number of individuals with disabilities who are competent to form political opinions, have candidate preferences, and vote are being denied their fundamental right to participate in the political process, solely because they are under guardianship, a status often imposed for family or financial convenience. A majority of states either deny the right to vote to individuals under guardianship or impose voter capacity requirements that unfairly target such individuals or subject them to a higher standard than others.
Disability service providers have sometimes made their own capacity judgments and refused to permit individuals with disabilities to vote. A number of studies found that long-term care facility staff routinely screened residents for voting capacity before permitting them to vote or helping them vote—including in states with no voter capacity requirement.
The National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) permits states to impose voter capacity requirements if they choose to do so. Any such requirements, however, must comply with the ADA. The ADA prohibits public entities from excluding qualified people from voting based on their disability, and from imposing greater burdens on voters with disabilities than on other voters. Any voter competence standard that a state chooses to use must be imposed on all voters, not just voters with disabilities or subgroups of voters with disabilities such as people under guardianship.
See our recommendations to address obstacles like these here (PDF).
On July 16, 2021, the Bazelon Center joined The Center for Law and Social Policy and other organizations in urging the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to “issue guidance and provide technical assistance for implementation to states that promote and stress the importance of youth mobile response models that do not involve law enforcement.”
In light of the significant adverse effects that the COVID-19 pandemic had on young people with mental health disabilities, and particularly those who are people of color, it is more important than ever that youth and young adults have access to quality mental health services. The unnecessary involvement of law enforcement in mental-health related crises is often more dangerous than not, and mobile response services without police involvement have been proven to reduce further trauma and harm.
The letter calls on HHS to issue guidance urging states to ensure that mobile response teams receive training focused on disability awareness and de-escalation, that they have their own telephone line, that they are accessible without contacting law enforcement, and that a broader array of community-based services are available so that youth and young adults can receive aid beyond the initial crisis response and to prevent crises from occurring. Read the full letter here.
In May 2021, the Office of the Management and Budget put out a “Request for Information” to consult with members of communities that have been historically underrepresented or subject to discrimination in the Federal Government as well as in its policies and programs to identify effective methods to assess whether agencies policies and actions equitably serve all eligible individuals in communities. Disability is a key dimension of equity and significantly underrepresented in the labor workforce.
The Bazelon Center collaborated with a coalition of disability and labor advocates to respond to the Office of Management and Budget and provide recommendations (link recommendations PDF here) about strategies to increase equity and address discrimination in federal procurement and contracting. The comments were filed on July 6, 2021.
We made recommendations in a number of areas related to federal contracting, including recommendations to strengthen requirements under Section 503 concerning federal contractors’ obligations to take affirmative action to employ people with disabilities across all parts of their workforce. We also recommended modifications to the AbilityOne program to promote competitive integrated employment rather than segregation.
Disability rights advocates and organized labor have historically made a common cause to promote the integration of people with disabilities into the workforce. Bazelon Center and partners continued this tradition in our submission. See our letter (PDF) here
Thank you to all partners: The Arc of the United States, American Association of People with Disabilities, Association of People Supporting Employment First (APSE), Association on Higher Education and Disability, Autistic Self Advocacy Network, Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, Center for Public Representation, Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, Disability Policy Consortium, Easter Seals, National Down Syndrome Society, TASH, United Cerebral Palsy, Viscardi Center, Communications Workers of America, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Service Employees International Union, SEIU Local 49, SEIU 32BJ, Strategic Organizing Center, Transport Workers Union of America, National Employment Law Project
On June 7, 2021 The Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law writes to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Civil rights to urge new regulations implementing Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act to have greater clarity on how the benefit design of health care coverage may discriminate based on disability. It is important that regulations implementing Section 1557 prohibit covered entities from taking actions that result in the segregation of people with disabilities. Read our letter (PDF).
On May 6, 2021, we submitted comments to the HHS Office for Civil Rights in response to proposed modifications that would dramatically weaken privacy protections under the HIPAA Privacy Rule. We opposed a number of the proposed modifications because they would cause significant harm to individuals with disabilities and interfere with their ability to receive needed services. In addition, the proposed modifications were not based on actual evidence or data but rather on generalized comments and speculation. As such, these modifications are beyond OCR’s authority to promulgate. The proposed modifications include removing the requirement that covered entities use “professional judgment” in determining whether five exceptions to the Privacy Rule apply, modifying the exception allowing disclosures necessary to avert a “serious and imminent threat” to require only “serious and reasonably foreseeable harm” and creating a presumption that any asserted harm is reasonably foreseeable, and eliminating the requirement that disclosure for coordination of care be the minimum information necessary. Read more (PDF) here.
The Bazelon Center submitted comments on a discussion draft of legislation called the Home Community Based Services (HCBS) Access Act released by members of Congress who solicited feedback from stakeholders. The draft legislation aims to create a set of home and community-based services for people with disabilities that must be covered by states participating in the Medicaid program. Our comments focus in part on ensuring that these services are inclusive of people with psychiatric disabilities See the letter (PDF) here.
The Bazelon Center, NAMI, Mental Health America, and NASMHPD urge all states to take advantage of new funding for community-based mental health services available through the American Rescue Plan. The American Rescue Plan is the most recent COVID-19 relief law enacted by Congress. It provides a significant increase in federal Medicaid funding for states that provide any of a specified set of home and community-based services, including mental health services, through the Medicaid program. Learn more here.
Attorneys filed a major class-action lawsuit challenging New York City’s segregated school system for students with disabilities on Staten Island. The lawsuit alleges that the borough’s separate school district for children with disabilities, known as District 75, denies these students an equal education, forcing them into segregated schools and classrooms without adequate resources and with no meaningful opportunity to be integrated into their community schools. Disability Rights New York, The Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, and Disability Rights Advocates work together to support the plaintiffs, three Staten Island students with disabilities. They are not seeking monetary damages; rather, they seek reforms that will compel the New York City Department of Education to provide the resources necessary so that every Staten Island District 75 student has the opportunity to attend their neighborhood schools if they choose. Read the press release (PDF) here. View Class Action Complaint (PDF) here.
National disability groups are closely following the Supreme Court’s consideration of the challenge to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) brought by Texas and 19 other states and supported by the Trump Administration. Texas argues that the ACA’s individual mandate is unconstitutional and that the entire law must be struck down. The Supreme Court heard arguments in the case, California v. Texas, on Tuesday, November 10. The Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD), the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF), and 16 other leading disability rights organizations, represented pro bono by law firms Dentons and Baker Hostetler, filed an amicus brief with the US Supreme Court highlighting the crucial health care protections that Congress provided for people with disabilities in the ACA. The ACA prevents people from being denied coverage or charged more due to pre-existing conditions and made coverage of needed services available and affordable to millions of people with disabilities for the first time. Read the press release (PDF) here. Read the amicus brief (PDF) here.
The Bazelon Center applauds the November 9, 2020 introduction of the Mental Health Justice Act by Reps. Katie Porter, Tony Cárdenas, Mary Gay Scanlon, and Ayanna Pressley. Individuals with mental illnesses and intellectual and developmental disabilities are more likely to experience police violence during arrest, with one out of every four deaths caused by law enforcement officers being a person with a mental illness. Moreover, these individuals are often needlessly incarcerated rather than receiving the community-based services they need. The Mental Health Justice Act would address this by creating a grant program to pay for hiring, training, salary, benefits and additional expenses for mental health provider first responder units. These mental health providers would act as a mental health emergency response team, deployed in lieu of law enforcement officers when 911 is called because someone is in a mental health crisis or related situation. Grant recipients would also receive expert advice through technical assistance from the Disability Rights Section of the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice (DOJ) and from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Read more about the Mental Health Justice Act here.
Read the Opposition Nomination letter (PDF) here.
Today (October 6), the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, together with fourteen other disability and civil rights groups, sent a letter to the Conference of Chief Justices urging the conference to endorse the widespread adoption of temporary diploma privilege, for individuals applying for admission to the bar during the ongoing pandemic. In-person bar examinations during the COVID-19 pandemic pose a significant danger for communities of color and people with disabilities because of the disproportionate infection and death rates in those communities. This policy would allow qualified law school graduates to practice law without sitting for the bar exam during the pandemic. Read the press release here (PDF). Read the letter (PDF) here.
Today (October 5), the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, together with more than 50 other organizations representing people with disabilities, sent a letter to the Senate leadership, urging them to reject the nomination of Judge Barrett to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The coalition also states that Congress should not act on any nomination to the Supreme Court until it has passed and the President has signed a COVID-19 relief bill. Read the letter (PDF).
Today (September 30), the Bazelon Center released a new report reviewing the U.S. Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett’s record on issues affecting people with disabilities. The review outlines her judicial decisions and other writings on healthcare/the Affordable Care Act, the “public charge” rule, and other disability rights issues. Read the full report here (PDF).
Today (August 20), the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Office for Civil Rights (OCR) announced the resolution of a federal complaint filed against Utah. The complaint, brought by the Utah Disability Law Center and a coalition of national groups— the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, The Arc of the United States, Center for Public Representation, Autistic Self Advocacy Network, Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund and Samuel Bagenstos—is one of nearly a dozen complaints that have been brought nationwide challenging states’ plans for rationing medical care during the COVID-19 pandemic as discriminating against people with disabilities. Today’s resolution sets a national precedent, with OCR building off earlier resolutions of complaints regarding plans in Alabama, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee and weighing in on the discriminatory impact of a number of provisions common in many states’ rationing plans. Read the announcement. Read the press release (PDF). Read the original complaint (PDF).
Today (July 30), the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, along with Disability Rights California (DRC), Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, and the Oakland-based law firm Goldstein, Borgen, Dardarian & Ho filed a federal lawsuit under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) against Alameda County and Alameda Health System. The lawsuit challenges the unnecessary and illegal segregation of people with mental health disabilities — especially Black people with disabilities — in psychiatric institutions and the failure to ensure people with disabilities are provided the services they need. Read the press release (PDF). Read the amended complaint (PDF). A video providing an overview of the lawsuit is available, with personal stories of people who have faced institutionalization in Alameda County.
(July 23) A coalition of state and national disability and civil rights advocacy groups have filed complaints with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office for Civil Rights (OCR) challenging the crisis standard of care plans in Arizona and Texas, two states hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. These crisis plans are used to decide who receives life-saving treatment. Along with state partners, the national groups—the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, The Arc, the Center for Public Representation, Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, and Justice in Aging—argue that the plans discriminate against people with disabilities, older adults, and people of color, placing these communities at risk of substantial and imminent harm—and the real risk of being denied basic and emergency treatment—during the pandemic. Read the press release (PDF). Read the Arizona complaint (PDF). Read the Texas complaint (PDF).
(Updated July 22) The Bazelon Center decries the July 1 shooting of Mr. Ricky Walker, Jr., a Black Baltimore resident with mental health issues, by Baltimore City police officers responding to a 9-1-1 call at his family’s home. Yesterday, Bazelon, Disability Rights Maryland, the ACLU of Maryland, and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund sent a letter to Baltimore’s mayor, police commissioner, State’s Attorney, and the CEO of Baltimore’s behavioral health authority demanding that they take immediate action to prevent more tragedies like Mr. Walker’s. The letter asks that Baltimore’s 9-1-1 system dispatch non-law enforcement mobile crisis teams on calls responding to individuals in crisis, and that Baltimore expand and enhance its behavioral health system, including its crisis response system but also longer-term supports, including housing services. Bazelon calls on Baltimore and all communities to consider a reduced role for the police and additional spending on community-based measures that promote the well-being of all. Read the press release (PDF). Read the full letter (PDF).
Today (June 26), the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Office for Civil Rights (OCR) announced the resolution of a federal complaint filed against Tennessee, one of nearly a dozen complaints filed by a coalition of national disability advocates – the Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, the Center for Public Representation, The Arc of the United States, Autistic Self Advocacy Network, Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund and Samuel Bagenstos — challenging states’ plans for rationing medical care during the COVID-19 pandemic as discriminating against people with disabilities. Medical rationing policies have disproportionately impacted Black people with disabilities, who have higher rates of COVID-19 infection and hospitalization. Today’s resolution sets a national precedent, with OCR building off earlier resolutions of complaints regarding Alabama’s and Pennsylvania’s plans and weighing in for the first time on the discriminatory impact of a number of provisions common in many states’ rationing plans. Read the announcement (PDF). Read the press release (PDF). Read the original complaint (PDF).
The Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, the Connecticut Legal Rights Project, and Center for Public Representation this week (June 10) filed a motion for a preliminary injunction in a class action case challenging Connecticut’s failure to take adequate steps to protect residents of two state psychiatric hospitals from contracting and dying from COVID-19. Both hospitals, Connecticut Valley Hospital (CVH) and Whiting Forensic Hospital (WFH), have had outbreaks of the virus. Five patients at CVH have died from COVID-19. At CVH and WFH, Defendants have confirmed 73 cases of COVID-19 among patients and 64 cases among staff, since testing began. Read the full press release (PDF).
This week (May 13), the Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, American Association of People with Disabilities, the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, and 16 other leading disability rights organizations, represented pro bono by law firms Dentons and Baker Hostetler, filed an amicus brief with the US Supreme Court highlighting the crucial health care protections that Congress provided for people with disabilities in the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The ACA prevented people from being denied coverage or charged more due to pre-existing conditions and made coverage of needed services available and affordable to millions of people with disabilities for the first time. In March, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, formerly known as Texas v. US and now known as California v. Texas, which it will hear in the fall. Read the full press release (PDF). Read the amicus brief (PDF).
Today (May 15), the Bazelon Center and partners have released a guide setting forth what hospitals and doctors’ offices must do to comply with the ADA and other disability rights laws when there are no-visitor policies in place due to COVID. The guide explains the requirement to make reasonable modifications to such policies and to allow a person to bring someone else to support them when necessary to accommodate the person’s disability. Read the guide (PDF).
Yesterday (May 7) the Bazelon Center joined the Connecticut Legal Rights Project in a federal class action lawsuit addressing the spread of COVID-19 in two Connecticut psychiatric hospitals, where patients face grave risks to their health and safety as a result of the facilities failure to take adequate measures to protect residents, in violation of the Constitution, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and other laws. The plaintiffs ask the state to take steps to ensure the safety of patients in two state psychiatric hospitals by discharging individuals to community services and ensuring adequate safety measures for those remaining in the hospitals. Read the complaint.
The COVID-19 pandemic has created enormous health risks for people confined in psychiatric hospitals. Today (April 15), the Bazelon Center released a statement urging states and localities to decrease the number of individuals in psychiatric hospitals during this pandemic by reducing admissions and accelerating discharges. Read a copy of the statement (PDF)
Together with other partners, the Bazelon Center today (April 9) released a tool for evaluating Crisis Standard of Care plans that ration scarce medical resources, in order to determine whether they comply with federal laws prohibiting disability discrimination. The tool contains six questions that are useful for scrutinizing these rationing plans. It is a companion to the guidance (PDF) that we and our partners released on April 3, 2020 applying HHS Office of Civil Rights’ bulletin concerning disability discrimination in medical rationing schemes. The tool, “Evaluation Framework For Crisis Standard of Care Plans,” is available to download (PDF). (Updated 11/30/20)
On April 8, in response to a complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights (OCR) by the Alabama Disability Advocacy Program (ADAP), the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, and other disability rights advocates, the state of Alabama has withdrawn its discriminatory ventilator rationing policy and instructed hospitals across the state that they cannot discriminate against people with disabilities in accessing treatment. The previous policy placed the lives of disabled adults and children at serious risk, in violation of federal law, by ordering hospitals to “not offer mechanical ventilator support for patients” with “severe or profound mental retardation,” “moderate to severe dementia,” and “severe traumatic brain injury.” Read the Press Release (PDF) and read the original complaint (PDF).
Today, April 6, 2020, the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law released a statement urging all jurisdictions to: (1) Immediately release a majority of the individuals with mental illness held in jails, and (2) Take immediate steps to divert from jail the majority of individuals with mental illness who are arrested. Read the Bazelon Center Statement (PDF).
The Bazelon Center and partners released today (April 3) a guidance document for states and hospitals on avoiding disability discrimination in the event of rationing of life-saving medical treatment. The guidance is based on the bulletin that the US Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights issued on March 28 concerning the requirements of federal disability rights laws in the context of rationing scarce medical treatment. The guidance explains how the principles in HHS’s bulletin would apply in practical terms, what those principles mean for covered entities developing and implementing rationing protocols, and what concrete steps can be taken to comply with federal law. The guidance is endorsed by nearly 90 national disability rights organizations. Read the press release (PDF) and the guidance (PDF) here.
On Tuesday, March 24, the Bazelon Center, together with the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program, the Arc of the United States, the Center for Public Representation, and Samuel Bagenstos, filed a complaint today with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights (OCR) contending that Alabama’s ventilator rationing plan discriminates against people with intellectual and cognitive disabilities, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and other laws. The complainants are ADAP and The Arc, on behalf of Alabamians with intellectual and cognitive disabilities who will likely die if medical professionals are allowed to withhold health care services from them on the basis of their disabilities. The complaints ask HHS to take immediate action to address this discrimination and assist local jurisdictions and providers to develop non-discriminatory approaches before there are lethal consequences to application of these illegal policies. The day before, we filed a complaint challenging Washington state’s discriminatory scheme to ration COVID-19 treatment. Read the Press Release (PDF)..
On Friday, March 27, we filed two additional complaints for the states of Kansas (PDF) and Tennessee (PDF). Read more about our Kansas complaint (PDF) and the Tennessee complaint (PDF).
January 30, 2020 – On February 3, 2020, the Coalition for Smart Safety, a coalition of mental health, disability, civil rights, education, and privacy groups convened by the Bazelon Center and the National Disability Rights Network, together with the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities Rights Task Force, is hosting congressional briefings titled Debunking the Myths: Mental Health and Gun Violence. The House side briefing, presented in conjunction with Representatives Langevin and Napolitano, will be at 1 pm. The Senate side briefing, presented in cooperation with Senators Blumenthal and Casey, will be at 3 pm. See the invitations for details on the speakers and RSVP.
2/3/20 – Debunking The Myths: Mental Health and Gun Violence (PDF) – 1 PM House-side Briefing Invite and RSVP (PDF)
2/3/20 – Debunking The Myths: Mental Health and Gun Violence – 3 PM Senate-side Briefing Invite and RSVP (PDF)
October 1, 2019 – The Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law has released a report describing the essential community mental health services that must be expanded to divert people with significant psychiatric disabilities from the criminal justice system: Diversion to What? Evidence-Based Mental Health Services That Prevent Needless Incarceration (PDF).
Diversion to What? is designed to provide guidance to stakeholders engaged in efforts to reduce incarceration of people with psychiatric disabilities, laying out the types of services that should be the focus of such efforts. The report describes what those services do and how they are structured, and identifies the evidence demonstrating their success in reducing incarceration.
Download the “Diversion to What?” (PDF). The Bazelon Center gratefully acknowledges essential support for this report provided by the MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge and the Ford Foundation.
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