A group which represents disabled individuals has sued South Carolina’s mental health agency, claiming the department often keeps patients isolated for years despite less expensive and better treatment options.
Protection and Advocacy for People with Disabilities, Inc., (P&A) filed the class-action lawsuit in federal court this week against the state Department of Mental Health (DMH), its director John Magill and the commission which oversees its operations. The organization is acting on behalf of six individuals who were admitted to the G. Werber Bryan Psychiatric Hospital in Columbia.
The lawsuit claims adults are “unnecessarily and illegally segregated” at Bryan, sometimes for years, because DMH officials have not developed community-based mental health services in many parts of South Carolina. “Contrary to modern and generally accepted methods of providing mental health care, this isolation at Bryan may last for years, possibly decades,” the filing says.
DMH officials have not yet responded to requests for comment. However, the agency typically does not respond to lawsuits publicly until the case goes to court. P&A is South Carolina’s designated protection and advocacy system for people with disabilities.
P&A attorney Sarah St. Onge said patients with a mental disability are often kept at the hospital for years. But she said many of those patients could be safely discharged if the state would provide the resources.
“Initially, they may have needed some support (at Bryan Hospital),” she told South Carolina Radio Network. “But then they remain in the hospital when they could be discharged if there were adequate resources in the community to support them.”
The lawsuit also claims a disparity across different parts of the state. P&A noted the mental health center in Charleston County is the only one in the state to offer a mobile crisis unit at all hours of the day. In neighboring Georgetown County, mental health patients needing “after hours” help must go to the emergency room.
St. Onge claimed the lack of resources is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, since the only option for some patients to get help they need is to live in a segregated hospital room.
Bryan is the largest psychiatric hospital in the Carolinas or Georgia, licensed for 530 beds. The lawsuit claims the average cost to house patients at Bryan is $503 per patient, per day.