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May 7, 2010

Sacramento County Sued Over Mental Health Cuts Group Says Cuts Violate Federal, State Mandates

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- A lawsuit filed Thursday accuses Sacramento County of violating the rights of mental health patients.

The class action lawsuit, filed in US District Court, said the county's plan to save nearly $18 million -- in part from changes to the county's adult mental health services -- violates state and federal laws mandating certain levels of care.

"I am going to decompensate. That's a very dangerous place to be. Relapse is eminent," said Leslie Napper, a mental health patient.

Napper said she's afraid she and thousands of others will fall through the cracks if Sacramento County eliminates the mental health program she relies on, known as a Regional Support Team, and moves her into a new county run program.

"We do not know who our new counselors or case managers are. We have no idea where we are going to receive our next medication," Napper said.

This new, smaller-scale program will operate with about 100 fewer mental health workers. It would need to be created in just more than one month. Sites for the program have not been confirmed. Staff has not been trained. Yet, the Department of Behavioral Health Services said it is confident it can be ready.

"We are committed to providing the same level of services clients are now receiving from the contracted services in-house, county-operated. So, they will be provided for," said Director of Mental Health Mary Ann Bennett.

Disability Rights California disagrees. The group said the plan will affect service so severely it violates state and federal law mandating access to mental health services. Now, it's suing the county.

"We are having a hard time imagining how the county is going to put together the services with county staff, with fewer staff, and with staff that hasn't been trained. It's just not going to happen in time," said Managing Attorney for Sacramento Regional Office of Disability Rights California Stuart Seaborn.

"I know there will be people dying," Napper said.

Seaborn said he hopes the class action lawsuit will stop the county from eliminating the regional support teams, or at least delay them.

The Sacramento County Board of Supervisors will vote on the proposal in mid-June. Disability Rights California is hoping a judge grants a temporary injunction before that time.