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Lawsuit alleges Pa. unnecessarily keeping people in state hospitals

Matt Rourke

A federal lawsuit filed by a disability rights group alleges Pennsylvania is unnecessarily segregating people with psychiatric disabilities in state hospitals, rather than providing people services they need in more appropriate community settings they are legally entitled to.

The case alleges the state is in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and it is “needlessly segregating large numbers of people who could be served at the same or less cost to the state in far more integrated settings in their communities.”

The litigation was filed Monday by Disability Rights Pennsylvania in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. It names state Acting Department of Human Services Secretary Valerie Arkoosh as a defendant. The department operates six state hospitals, in Clarks Summit, Danville, Norristown, Torrance, Warren and Wernersville.

More than 800 individuals with psychiatric disabilities are “civilly committed to” and reside in these Pennsylvania state hospitals, according to the lawsuit.

The plaintiffs, whose names are redacted, are a 38-year old with bipolar disorder who has lived at Wernersville State Hospital since 2017, and a 21-year old with bipolar disorder at Warren State Hospital who has been there since 2021.

Lawyers for the two allege the state “has no viable integration plan for its state hospital residents, as required by federal law. It has failed to adequately assess and identify state hospital residents who could be discharged to the community.”

The lawsuit says the state has failed — through inadequate funding — to build an infrastructure of community mental health services and supports that can serve people in smaller, community-based settings, as opposed to congregate institutions.

A spokesman for the Department of Human Services said DHS cannot comment on pending litigation.

Kate Giammarise