mental illness in adult care homes

(Credit: Justin Paget / Getty Images)

South Carolina’s use of adult care homes is under investigation by the federal government over allegations that adults with mental illness are “needlessly” segregated and prevented from accessing mental health services.

The U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division announced last week that it opened a disability rights investigation under the American with Disabilities Act. The investigation will look at whether the state segregates individuals with mental illness in community residential care facilities by failing to provide integrated community-based mental health services.

Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke said in a statement that people with disabilities have “too often” been unlawfully isolated in institutions, including state psychiatric hospitals and adult care homes.

Although the Justice Department did not provide information on the complaint that triggered the investigation, a release on the announcement focuses on the provision of integrated community-based mental health services, which were key components of the ADA’s integration mandate upheld in Olmsted v. L.C. in 1999. 

The Supreme Court’s ruling requires states to eliminate unnecessary segregation of people with disabilities and to ensure that they receive services in the most integrated setting appropriate. In 2009, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division launched an aggressive effort to enforce the decision.

New York challenge

In another case involving adult care homes, the federal government last week filed a statement of interest in the Doe v. Zucker lawsuit filed in the Northern District of New York. The suit challenges a New York state regulation limiting admissions of people with serious mental illness into adult homes, saying that doing so violates the Fair Housing Act and the ADA. 

In its filing, the federal government said the regulation does not violate the FHA and aligns with the New York Office of Mental Health’s determination that adults homes are not “clinically appropriate settings” for individuals with serious mental illness, nor are they “conducive to the rehabilitation or recovery” of those individuals.