Lawsuit for Mentally Ill

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A lawsuit to provide services for the mentally ill in Arizona who do not qualify for Medicaid has finally been settled. It was filed in 1981. Charles Arnold, the attorney who filed the suit, will talk about the settlement.

Ted Simons: Coming up next on "Arizona Horizon," a law enforcement regarding local mental health services is settled after 30 years of litigation. Also, how the makeup of the state's congressional delegation reflects Congress as a whole, and we'll hear how the end of extended jobless benefits is impacting Arizonans. Those stories next on "Arizona Horizon."

Narrator: "Arizona Horizon," is made possible by contributions from the friends of Eight, members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons.

Ted Simons: A settlement was announced today in a three-decades old lawsuit to provide treatment and services for the seriously mentally ill in Maricopa County. Charles Arnold filed a suit in 1981 and joins us to talk about the settlement. It's good to see you again. We have had you on the show so many times to talk about this. We may not have to have you on again, I think it's over.

Charles Arnold: I think that's great. This is a good day in Arizona.

Ted Simons: What happened today?

Charles Arnold: Today service announced that the Arnold versus Sarn case has been resolved through the plaintiff's attorneys, the center for law and the public interest, and the Governor's team. It resulted in a significant agreement that will provide community-based accessible services to people in Arizona.

Ted Simons: Indeed. What does the settlement cover and how many will be covered?

Charles Arnold: Well, it deals with what are the hot issues. It's impossible, for example, for someone with a mental illness so recover in the absence of stable housing. So, one of the critical components of the settlement agreement is an emphasis on supported housing. There will be an additional 1,500 slots available for people in Maricopa County with respect to supported housing. Supported employment is another component, another leg of this settlement, and enhanced crisis services, and enhanced peer support opportunities. So, all in all, on this date, the anniversary of the Tucson shooting, the synchronicity of announcing this positive step towards addressing the mental health needs of Arizonans.

Ted Simons: Are we talking Maricopa County residents only?

Charles Arnold: The, the case deals specifically with Maricopa County. So, the numbers inherent in this settlement agreement are Maricopa County-specific. The principles have been embraced by the state and will be enacted by the state.

Ted Simons: We have had you on so many times to talk about this, but again, give us a brief history lesson of what's going on here.

Charles Arnold: Well, in 1981, as the public guardian, based upon a statute passed by our legislature, I participated in the filing of this class action lawsuit. 1989, the Supreme Court affirmed the lower court decision indicating that the state was failing in its mandatory duty to meet the needs of the mentally ill in Arizona. Over the years there were various iterations of agreements that, that addressed what the crises were at the time. Finally, we were able to make a global settlement, again, with a commitment from the Governor and her team to enact and actualize the vision of the statute.

Ted Simons: I can understand that, that, the public from 81 to 89. I can understand reluctance of the legislature, and those sorts of things happening out there. But, when the order, the court order in 1991 occurred, why did it take so long to get something done?

Charles Arnold: Well, it's always been a question of accessibility and funding. What's changed, is a few important critical factors. One, is the restoration of Medicaid in Arizona, which will increase the universe of people who qualify for Medicaid services. Secondly, the affordable health care act will make it possible for people who are not covered by Medicaid to get additional coverage. And thirdly, and equally as important, is Arizona having embraced the notion of integrated care, of not making a distinction between what's perceived as mental health care as distinguished from primary care.

Ted Simons: What prompted that change, do you think?

Charles Arnold: Development of smart thinkers. We have, we have experts in our community who have recognized the, the decreased life-span of people with mental illness. And the reason is not necessarily directly attributed to their mental health issues, but rather, physical issues that go unaddressed, and so the notion of integrating that care is a critical component to, to a successful attempt at recovery.

Ted Simons: And leading to today's decision, the announcement of a settlement, a couple of years ago now, we had a bit of -- we had you on a couple of years to talk about this framework that seems to have led to today.

Charles Arnold: That's precisely right, but I have to emphasize what made it possible was, was the restoration of Medicaid because that shifted cost to the Federal Government that otherwise would have been -- had to have been sustained by our state Government, and that was the tension that, that I would suggest was getting in the way of this resolution over the years.

Ted Simons: Are these seriously, the seriously mentally ill better off today than they were yesterday, last week? Last year?

Charles Arnold: Absolutely. I think that there is a lot of reason for optimism within our state. Not just for people with mental illness but for the citizens of Arizona.

Ted Simons: What about care providers? Challenges? Will they see challenges?

Charles Arnold: Absolutely. The challenges, the settlement agreement provides for, for objectifying the standards for, for appropriate activities on behalf of the providers, and an important part of this settlement is embracing the standards of the substance abuse and mental health services administration. And which is, which is, which has defined the state of the art best practices, and this settlement agreement brings, brings to Arizona, those best practices.

Ted Simons: Personal question, did you achieve what you and the gentleman we talked about in the past, John Goss, who was the guy behind this, really, the guy that moved you into this lawsuit, a gentleman looking for services, did you achieve what you and Mr. Goss were looking for, all those years ago?

Charles Arnold: Gosh, Ted, it would be presumptuous of me to suggest that I have achieved anything. This is a statute that was passed by our legislature in the late s. And this lawsuit simply affirmed the, the requirement to comply with the statute as passed by our legislators. Did we accomplish something by affirming that? Absolutely. But the hard work, the heavy lifting was done by the attorneys of the center for law and the public interest and, and the Governor's team that was permitted, again, to actualizing the vision of this statute.

Ted Simons: Back to 1981, could you have believed back in 1981, that, that this would have taken so long to find resolution?

Charles Arnold: Oh, I don't think that anyone of us would have anticipated that time frame.

Ted Simons: And what do you do now? Is this fight over? The court has to agree to terms, correct?

Charles Arnold: Indeed, and there are future requirements that the court will still be available to, to, to address should there be a step backwards, should things not works as anticipated in the settlement agreement. This court, this case will, will be available, will remain open to provide a forum to seek relief. I don't anticipate that. I think we're going to the right direction.

Ted Simons: It sounds like the right direction was started in 1981. Was this a surprise to you?

Charles Arnold: The settlement?

Ted Simons: Today, yeah. Did it happen today?

Charles Arnold: It's been cooking for some time, and once again, with the Governor's commitment to, to do what she believes to be the right thing for people with mental illness, this was bound to happen.

Ted Simons: And well, it's good to have you here. We'll find a way to get you back on the show, but it may not be about the lawsuit any more.

Charles Arnold: Fair enough.

Ted Simons: All right, thanks for being here.

Charles Arnold: My pleasure, Ted.

Charles Arnold:Attorney;

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