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Maine violates ADA, US Justice Department reports

An investigation into Maine's compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act reveals unnecessary segregation of children with disabilities.
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MAINE, USA — The U.S. Department of Justice reported that the state of Maine violates the Americans with Disabilities Act in a news release Wednesday.

The announcement lands on the 23rd anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision in Olmstead v. L.C., the 1999 court case that ruled "unjustified segregation of persons with disabilities constitutes discrimination in violation of title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act," according to the ADA website.

The news release states that Maine unnecessarily segregates children who have mental health and developmental disabilities. 

The segregation reportedly takes place in psychiatric hospitals, state-operated juvenile detention facility Long Creek Youth Development Center, and residential treatment facilities, the release says.

The Justice Department received a complaint from Disability Rights Maine, a protection and advocacy agency that advocates for people with disabilities, especially those who have been treated unjustly.

DRM reported unjust treatment to the Justice Department "on behalf of a group of children with disabilities, alleging that these children cannot access needed community-based services, resulting in their institutionalization or risk of institutionalization in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Supreme Court’s decision in Olmstead," the news release says.

The DRM complaint launched a full investigation into Maine's care for children with disabilities conducted by the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division Disability Rights Section assisted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Maine, and a letter was sent to Gov. Janet Mills and Attorney General Aaron Frey revealing the findings, according to the release.

The findings report that Maine's children with disabilities face multiple barriers when trying to access proper behavioral health services, including "lengthy waitlists, an insufficient provider network, inadequate crisis services, and a lack of support for foster care parents who provide specialized care to children with behavioral health needs," the release states. 

Children with disabilities who live in rural areas are especially at risk for not receiving the proper care or treatment they need.

"Many children with disabilities in Maine, especially those in rural areas or with more intensive needs, are unable to live at home with their families due to a lack of community-based behavioral health services," the news release says. "These services can include assistance with daily activities, behavior management, and individual or family counseling."

The release reports that the implementation of community-based behavioral health services from the state of Maine can help prevent children with disabilities from becoming institutionalized.

"Community-based behavioral health services also include crisis services that can prevent a child from being institutionalized during a mental health crisis," the release says. "Absent these services, Maine children with disabilities enter emergency rooms, come into contact with law enforcement, and remain in institutions when many of them could be at home if Maine put in place sufficient community-based services."

Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division states that children with disabilities deserve to grow up in their homes with the proper support they need, rather than being subject to institutionalization.

"Children with disabilities deserve the opportunity to live at home with the services they need and grow up in the community alongside their nondisabled peers,” Clarke said in the release. “With the increase in children’s mental health needs during the pandemic, it is more important than ever to provide support to children and families."

U.S. Attorney Darcie N. McElwee for the District of Maine hopes the findings by the Department of Justice allow for change to be made in Maine to better support children with disabilities.

“Access to local community-based services for children with mental health and/or developmental disabilities is a critical need for families across Maine,” McElwee said in the release. “I hope that the violations identified by the Justice Department can be remedied so that these children and their families are able to obtain quality services in their own communities.”

The Maine Department of Health and Human Services released the following statement to NEWS CENTER Maine:

"The Maine Department of Health and Human Services shares the goal of improving behavioral health services for Maine children in their homes and communities. That’s why we have fully cooperated with this investigation into the shortcomings of Maine’s behavioral health system – shortcomings that date back decades. The Administration has worked over the past three and a half years to rebuild a system of services that was dismantled during the previous administration, dedicating new funding to strengthen behavioral health in every budget and re-establishing the Children’s Cabinet as an avenue to address pressing needs.  

"Unfortunately, the pandemic, along with its resulting challenges,  from providers’ inability to hire and retain qualified staff to a greater need for behavioral health services due to anxiety and isolation caused by COVID-19, set back the progress the Department hoped to make and more work remains. We share the strong sense of urgency in ensuring that Maine children with disabilities have timely access to an array of high-quality, evidence-based services that prevent institutionalization whenever possible – and will continue to work diligently towards that end.  

"That work is underway. The Department has taken numerous actions and is pursuing new initiatives to strengthen Maine’s behavioral health system. This includes, but is not limited to, expediting more than $12.1 million in state funding to providers to strengthen services to help keep people out of inpatient settings for behavioral health crises, such as assertive community treatment for those with serious and persistent mental illness, targeted case management, home- and community treatment programs, and outpatient therapy for children and adults. 

"These payments, to be made today, are designed to offset pandemic-related losses, reduce use of hospital emergency departments for behavioral health crises, meet increased demand due to the long-term mental health effects of the pandemic, and stabilize and hopefully reduce wait lists for services. These one-time pandemic-related payments are part of the Governor’s historic investment in Maine’s behavioral health system. 

"As passed by the Legislature, the Governor’s supplemental budget and the biennial budget, along with the Home- and Community-Based Services Plan’s bonus payments for workers funded by the American Rescue Plan, invest $230 million in state fiscal years 2022 and 2023 in behavioral health to support the workforce, capacity, and resilience of providers as well as sustainable MaineCare rates into the future.  

"Fundamentally, the Administration believes that Maine children with disabilities or behavioral health needs should have timely access to high-quality services in their communities in order to prevent unnecessary institutionalization, and the Department welcomes the opportunity to engage with the Department of Justice and other stakeholders to improve the children’s behavioral health system in Maine."

"We look forward to bringing Maine into compliance with federal law and achieving a resolution that will benefit children with disabilities across the state,” Clarke added in the release.

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