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January 16, 2024 – Bazelon Center and Vera Institute: A Different Response to 911 Calls is Urgently Needed Read the new issue brief by the Bazelon Center and the Vera Institute of Justice, “New Federal Guidance for Alternatives to Police for People with Behavioral Health or Other Disabilities.” The issue brief analyzes recent guidance issued by the U.S. Departments of Justice and Health and Human Services, which makes clear that people with mental health and other disabilities should receive a health response—not a law enforcement response—in circumstances where others would receive a health response. “A health-focused team of workers with mental health expertise should be deployed instead of the police, just as an ambulance would be dispatched to help someone experiencing a physical health emergency.”
The new federal government guidance is an important step forward, but the Bazelon Center and the Vera Institute urge all levels of government to undertake greater investment in and clarity around the prioritization and implementation of unarmed crisis responses for people with disabilities over police-led approaches. Read the full issue brief (PDF).
January 9, 2024– Bazelon Center Issues Report on the Benefits of Peer Supports in Crisis Services How communities respond to a mental health crisis is one of the key issues facing people with mental health disabilities today. Too often, police respond to calls to 911 in ways that cause physical and emotional harm to people in crisis, especially those from Black and brown communities. Today the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law released its new report, “When There’s a Crisis, Call a Peer: How People with Lived Experience Make Mental Health Crisis Services More Effective.” The report explains that when people with lived experience with mental health challenges working as “peer specialists” respond to these calls, individuals who need help are less likely to be admitted to emergency rooms and hospitals, more likely to be engaged in community-based services, experience less self-stigma and more self-empowerment, and are less likely to need crisis services in the future. Read the full report (PDF).
November 29, 2023 – Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law Commemorates Rosalynn Carter’s Life & Legacy The Bazelon Center extends its condolences to President Carter and his family on the passing of Mrs. Carter as they gather today in Plains, Georgia. Mrs. Carter was a tireless advocate for mental health and her longtime leadership was instrumental in helping to destigmatize mental health and improve mental health service systems.
As our partners in this work for over 40 years, the Bazelon Center is deeply grateful for the efforts of Mrs. Carter and the Carter Center to realize the promise of the Supreme Court’s decision in Olmstead v. L.C. (Lois Curtis), leading to millions of Americans living their lives in the community, instead of institutions. We are committed to carrying on Mrs. Carter’s legacy alongside the Carter Center to build an effective mental health care system in the United States. Read the statement (PDF).
June 8, 2023 – Justice Jackson, on behalf of the Supreme Court 7-2 majority, issues a big win for people with disabilities in HHC v. Talevski “Today, the Supreme Court rejected a cynical gambit to overturn decades of legal precedent and strike another legal blow to civil rights,” said Megan Schuller, Legal Director of the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law. “We applaud Justice Jackson and the majority for their decision to uphold the rights of people with disabilities in this case. Governments should be accountable to the people they serve when they violate their rights, including under Medicaid Law. This is a major victory in our ongoing fight for full and equal inclusion of people with disabilities in our society.” The Bazelon Center collaborated with other disability and civil rights groups to file an amicus brief in support of the Talevski estate and urge the Supreme Court to reaffirm the private right of action. The Bazelon Center also created a large-scale campaign with advocates in Indiana to bring attention to the importance of this case and its implications for civil rights. Read the full alert.
April 6, 2022 – The Bazelon Center Celebrates the Historic Supreme Court Appointment of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson
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.
February 14, 2022 – Tell the President We Need a Disability Civil Rights Leader on the Supreme Court
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.
January 27, 2022 – The Bazelon Center Congratulates Justice Stephen G. Breyer on His Retirement and Celebrates His Legacy of Supporting Disability Rights
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 the full alert here.
November 19, 2021 – The Bazelon Center Applauds Historic Investment in Home and Community-Based Services
Washington, DC – The Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law applauds the U.S. House of Representatives for passing the Build Back Better Act (H.R.5376) which includes the largest investment ever to expand Home and Community-Based Services (HCBS). This unprecedented investment of $150 billion for HCBS will afford new opportunities for millions of people with disabilities, including psychiatric disabilities, to receive services in their own homes and communities. The pandemic has made the need for the expansion of community-based services even more urgent. “We are encouraged by this historic step forward and appreciate that House lawmakers have listened to people with disabilities and responded,” said Jennifer Mathis, Director of Policy and Legal Advocacy. “We call on the Senate to respond as well.” Now we need the Senate to act swiftly to pass the bill so that it can become law. In addition to expanding home and community-based services, the Build Back Better Act would, among other things, close the “Medicaid coverage gap” that leaves people below the poverty line without subsidies for health care coverage in states that have not adopted the Medicaid expansion, reduce healthcare premiums for millions of people which would make it more affordable, make new investments in affordable housing, and make investments to support the phaseout of subminimum wage employment of people with disabilities and promote competitive integrated employment. Please call your Senators today to urge them to vote for the Build Back Better legislation and ensure that it includes these investments, including $150 billion investment for home and community-based services. Find your Senator here. Read the full alert here.
November 11, 2021 – CVS v Doe Case is Officially Withdrawn from the Supreme Court
On November 11, 2021, the case, CVS v Doe, was officially withdrawn from the Supreme Court. We thank all partners and CVS for taking action to protect Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Section 504 is critical to the protection and enforcement of disability rights. It mandates non-discrimination in programs and activities that receive federal funding and federal programs including Medicare, Social Security, Veterans Administration, national parks, and federal employment. We look forward to continuing the conversation with CVS and partners on how to continue to support the rights of people with disabilities. Access the Writ of Certiorari Dismissed document (PDF) here.
November 3, 2021 – The Bazelon Center’s Call to Action is Asking Congress to Invest in Home and Community-Based Services
We applaud the Biden Administration’s release of an updated Build Back Better framework reflecting the Administration’s commitment to a significant expansion of community-based services for people with disabilities and older adults. This plan, which reflects negotiations with members of Congress, includes an unprecedented investment of $150 billion for Home and Community-Based Services. This would be the largest investment in HCBS to date. If passed, the plan would afford new opportunities for millions of people with disabilities to receive services in their own homes and communities instead of through institutions. It is time for states and local governments to invest more resources into developing their community service systems. Congress should act quickly to pass this critical legislation. Take action and read the full alert here.
June 17, 2021 – The Bazelon Center Applauds the Supreme Court for Upholding the Affordable Care Act for the Third Time
Today, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a challenge by Texas and other states to the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. In California v. Texas, Texas and 17 other states challenged the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act based on the mandate that requires people to have health insurance. Texas argued that the ACA’s individual mandate is unconstitutional and that the entire law should be struck down. The Supreme Court rejected these claims because the plaintiff states did not have the standing to bring them. Texas and the other plaintiffs failed to show that they were harmed as a result of any unlawful conduct by the government. “Today’s decision is an enormous victory for people with disabilities and for all Americans,” said Jennifer Mathis, Director of Policy and Legal Advocacy at the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law. “The Affordable Care Act has saved lives and enabled millions of people with disabilities to live full lives in their own homes and communities.” Read the full alert.
May 14, 2021 – Bazelon Center Praises Passage of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act
The Bazelon Center praises the recent passage of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act. Jennifer Mathis, the Bazelon Center’s Director of Policy and Legal Advocacy and co-chair of the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities CCD Rights Task Force, had urged the House of Representatives to support the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, H.R. 1065. This bill prohibits employment practices that fail to extend reasonable accommodations to qualified employees affected by a pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. This act is not only important for pregnant women, but for our national economy and people with disabilities. Read our letter of support (PDF) here.
April 26, 2021 – DOJ Finds that Alameda County, CA Violates the ADA and the U.S. Constitution
The Bazelon Center and its partners reported concerns about what was happening in Alameda and later filed a lawsuit against the County.  DOJ’s Civil Rights Division conducted an unprecedented investigation into both the County’s mental health system and its jail. On April 22, 2021, the Department of Justice (DOJ) issued findings that “people with mental health disabilities in Alameda County find themselves unnecessarily cycling in and out of psychiatric institutions and jails because they lack access to proven services that would allow them to recover and participate in community life.” Read the DOJ’s conclusion.
March 25, 2021 – Bazelon Center Files Amicus Brief Supporting Plaintiffs in Class Action Case Challenging Patient Safety Violations at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital
On March 25, 2020, the Bazelon Center of Mental Health Law filed an amicus brief along with the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD), National Council of Independent Living, and Mental Health America in a case against the D.C. Department of Behavioral Health and Saint Elizabeth’s Hospital to address the risks to and protect the rights of psychiatric patients at Saint Elizabeth’s Hospital. “DC is arguing that it may ignore the CDC’s guidelines if it chooses,” said Ira Burnim, Legal Director at the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law. “That is irresponsible, and it is contrary to well-established constitutional protections.” Read the amicus brief (PDF) here.
March 30, 2021 – Bazelon Center Wins Appeal in Psychiatric Service Dog Case
On March 30, a three judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit vacated the United States District Court for the Central District of California judgment in the Bazelon Center case, C.L. v. Del Amo Hospital, in favor of the defendant in an action seeking injunctive relief under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits discrimination in “places of public accommodation,” including hospitals. The panel’s opinion, written by Judge Ronald M. Gould, held that the district court erred as a matter of law by effectively imposing a certification requirement for C.L.’s dog to be qualified as a service animal. Read the full Ninth Circuit decision (PDF) here.
February 23, 2021 – Tell Your Representative to Support COVID-19 Relief
The House of Representatives is expected to vote this week on the latest COVID-19 relief legislation. This legislation includes provisions sought by the disability community to provide additional Medicaid funding for home and community-based services to enable people with disabilities and older adults to transition out of or be diverted from the congregate care settings. These settings have posed dangerous risks of COVID-19 transmission. These provisions, which explicitly include community-based mental health services, are critical to saving lives. It is important that they remain in the final legislation. Please ask your representative to support the legislation and ensure that these provisions are included in the final bill. Read the Medicaid provisions of the legislation (PDF).
February 11, 2021 – The Bazelon Center and a Coalition of Civil Rights Groups and Legal Scholars Release a Guide to Prevent Intersectional Medical Discrimination During COVID-19
Today, a coalition of civil rights groups and legal scholars announce the release of a new report: “Examining How Crisis Standards of Care May Lead to Intersectional Medical Discrimination Against COVID-19 Patients.” The report explores and addresses how crisis standards of care may perpetuate medical discrimination against people with disabilities, older adults, higher weight people, as well as Black, Indigenous, and other people of color, in hospital care. Many face pervasive negative biases and inaccurate assumptions about their value, quality of life, capacity to communicate and make decisions, and likelihood of survival. During this pandemic, these biases can have deadly consequences when hospitals must make decisions about which critically ill patients should receive treatment. Read the full report.
January 26, 2021 – Bazelon Center and Partners File Lawsuit to End Segregation of District 75 Staten Island Students
Today the Bazelon Center and partners 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 New York City’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. Black students with disabilities are overrepresented in segregated District 75 schools. “For students with disabilities, education in an integrated classroom is not just a civil right – it’s where they belong and do better,” said Lewis Bossing, Senior Staff Attorney at the Bazelon Center. Read the full alert.
January 15, 2021 – NC Expands COVID-19 Medical Rationing Protections for the Disabled in Response to Civil Rights Complaint
The US Department of Health & Human Services Office for Civil Rights (OCR) resolved a federal complaint filed by Disability Rights North Carolina (DRNC) and The Arc of North Carolina alleging that North Carolina’s scarce medical resource plan illegally deprioritized people with disabilities in the allocation of lifesaving care. Medical rationing policies have also disproportionately impacted Black people with disabilities, because they have higher rates of COVID-19 infection and hospitalization. In response to the complaint and engagement with OCR, North Carolina has revised its “Protocol for Allocating Scarce Inpatient Critical Care Resources in a Pandemic” to comply with federal disability rights laws and ensure that people with disabilities will not encounter discrimination even when public health emergencies, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, necessitate the rationing of medical resources. Read the full alert.
January 14, 2021 – The Bazelon Center Calls on States to Include Individuals in Psychiatric Hospitals for Priority Vaccination
On December 3, 2020, the CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices issued recommendations for allocating initial supplies of COVID-19 vaccine. The Committee’s recommendations do not directly address whether psychiatric inpatients are or should be included among those first to receive the vaccine (Phase 1A). To implement the CDC’s recommendations, state authorities making vaccine allocation decisions should: include psychiatric inpatients whose hospital stay is likely to be weeks or months in the first group to receive the vaccine (phase 1a), give short-term psychiatric inpatients the same priority as other hospital inpatients, and require that hospital discharge plans provide for the administration of a second dose of the vaccine. Read the full alert.