Sacramento County case over mental health care settled

01/24/2012 12:00 AM

01/24/2012 8:31 AM

Advocates who sued Sacramento County in 2010 to preserve continuity of care for mental health care recipients in the face of budget cuts announced a settlement in the case Monday.

The agreement means about 5,000 adults with significant psychiatric disabilities can continue to get outpatient services from their existing contract providers, according to the disability rights group.

The suit was filed by attorneys from the Western Center on Law and Poverty, Disability Rights California and a Palo Alto law firm, Cooley LLP, on behalf of several individuals receiving care.

The county, facing a budget deficit, had sought to save money by opening mental health clinics staffed by its own employees, replacing providers who run clinics under competitively bid contracts.

In July 2010, however, U.S. District Judge John A. Mendez of the Eastern District in Sacramento blocked the budget cuts.

Mental health advocates warned the judge that the abrupt transition to county-run clinics could endanger the mental health of clients and place them at risk of hospitalization and inpatient placement.

"I think the settlement offers the county an excellent opportunity to revisit its priorities and to spend more money on outpatient care and less money on inpatient care," said Robert Newman of the Western Center on Law and Poverty.

County spokeswoman Laura McCasland said the health agency was "pleased with the settlement agreement. We look forward to the court approving it and are already in the process of implementing the agreements made."

In a related matter, Sacramento County appointed an expert on mental health practices after the suit was filed. The report by Nancy Callahan last May provided a comprehensive look at the county's adult mental health system and made recommendations on its redesign.

The settlement must be approved by Mendez. It calls on the county by Dec. 31 to develop a plan for providing a continuum of care through its outpatient mental health system.

The county also by the end of the year is to develop a plan for outpatient clinic consolidation, and it must consider a range of other changes to its outpatient mental health system.

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