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California Healthline

July 22, 2010

Federal Judge Thwarts Sacramento County's Mental Health Plans

On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge John Mendez issued a preliminary injunction preventing Sacramento County from shifting Medi-Cal beneficiaries with mental health issues from private community treatment programs to county clinics, the Sacramento Bee reports. Medi-Cal is California's Medicaid program.

Background

Sacramento County initially proposed the new mental health plan as part of an effort to balance its budget (Hubert, Sacramento Bee, 7/22). The county currently faces a $17.5 million deficit for mental health services alone (Robertson, Sacramento Business Journal, 7/21).

In May, Disability Rights California, Western Center on Law and Poverty and the law firm Cooley filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of five residents with mental health issues. The suit claimed that the county's proposal would be disruptive and could lead to "unnecessary hospitalizations and institutionalizations."

Ruling Details

On Wednesday, U.S. Department of Justice lawyers filed a statement supporting the plaintiffs and encouraging Mendez to issue the preliminary injunction.

In his ruling, Mendez said the county's plan would violate the federal Americans With Disabilities Act and result in "catastrophic harm" to patients.

Although the county initially hoped to implement the new system on Aug. 1, Mendez said officials now must wait until the court case is fully resolved.

Related Cases

Over the past few months, Sacramento County has faced numerous legal challenges to its attempts to reduce funding for mental health services and other health programs.

Earlier this month, a Sacramento Superior Court judge blocked the county from following through on a plan to close health clinics that provide services to low-income residents.

A different lawsuit focused on the proposed cuts to mental health programs is pending in Superior Court (Sacramento Bee, 7/22).

To read more about Sacramento County's planned cuts to health programs, see today's Capitol Desk post.

Broadcast Coverage

On Wednesday, Capital Public Radio's "KXJZ News" reported on Mendez's preliminary injunction. The segment includes comments from Wendy Hoffman-Blank, who manages the adult mental health program at the private clinic Visions Unlimited (Adler, "KXJZ News," Capital Public Radio, 7/21).