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Sweeping Lawsuit Brought against New York State on Behalf of Thousands of Medicaid-eligible Children Denied Mental Health Treatment

NEW YORK, NY—New York is denying Medicaid-eligible children their legal right to mental health care. Today, a class action lawsuit was brought by Disability Rights New York, Children’s Rights, the National Health Law Program, and Proskauer Rose LLP.

The lawsuit is brought on behalf of Medicaid-eligible children under the age of 21 with mental health conditions. It asserts that despite federal laws requiring mental health services be available and provided to the State’s Medicaid children and youth, New York administers an inadequate, inaccessible, and fragmented mental health system for these children and youth.

As detailed in the complaint, because of the lack of home and community-based mental health services, Medicaid-eligible children across New York today languish as their mental health conditions deteriorate. Without intensive services in their homes and communities, children with mental health disabilities are unnecessarily placed in psychiatric hospitals and similar institutions for extended periods, where they are separated from their families and communities and fail to thrive.

Without these services, desperate families often have no alternative but to rely on hospital emergency rooms to provide short-term care that fails to address children’s underlying conditions. Too often, police officers are the only available emergency responders to children in mental distress.

One of the named plaintiffs in the case is 15-year-old C.K. For years, H.C. has cycled in and out of hospitals, emergency rooms, and residential institutions, but his mental health needs continue to go unmet. For years his mother tried unsuccessfully to get him home and community-based care, which experts say leads to the best long-term outcomes for children. Today, he thinks about suicide and is at risk of being institutionalized yet again.

In New York, more than 2,200,000 children and adolescents are enrolled in Medicaid, with thousands of children requiring home and community-based mental health services. As described in the complaint, mental health concerns among children have reached crisis levels, with more than one in ten teenagers in the State suffering a major depressive episode, with surges of youth visiting New York’s emergency rooms due to mental health crises, and suicide being one of the leading causes of death for youth aged 5 to 19. The complaint further notes that the impact falls disproportionately on youth from low-income families and children of color, who already face myriad struggles that harm their mental health, including racial discrimination. The rate of Black youth suicide is increasing faster than any other racial or ethnic group.

As reflected in the complaint, the benefits of home and community-based mental health services have been borne out by expert medical opinion and court decisions across the country. Such services result in the best long-term outcomes for children, including significant improvement in their quality of life, improved school attendance and performance, increases in emotional and behavioral strength, more stable living situations, reduced suicide attempts, and fewer contacts with law enforcement.

“New York’s dysfunctional mental health system has been failing our children for decades,” said Timothy A. Clune, Executive Director, Disability Rights New York. “Leaving our children without access to the necessary home and community-based services, they are illegally institutionalized and face very real risks to their safety and well-being.”

“New York State’s failure to meet children’s mental health needs is causing harm on a large scale in communities across the State. Parents and relatives have tirelessly advocated for their children, but time and time again, they have been left to navigate a fragmented, uncoordinated, and unresponsive system,” said Daniele Gerard, Senior Staff Attorney at Children’s Rights. “The State promised to fix this over a decade ago, but has not backed up its words with action.”

“We brought this lawsuit because the State has failed to provide the services required by federal Medicaid law. Access to intensive home and community-based mental health services – including intensive care coordination, in-home behavioral supports, and mobile crisis intervention – is critical for New York’s Medicaid-eligible children and youth to keep them at home and out of psychiatric hospitals and institutions,” said Kimberly Lewis, Managing Attorney at the National Health Law Program.

“Mental health concerns among children continue to climb to crisis levels. As LGBTQIA+ youth, youth from low-income families and children and families of color are disproportionately impacted by this crisis, it’s critical that all children have access to affordable and quality mental health services. Without access to the care they need, children will remain at risk of continued decline in their mental health conditions. Through this lawsuit, we seek to create better long-term outcomes for children by ensuring mental health services are available and provided to the State’s Medicaid population,” said Steven Holinstat, Co-Head of Proskauer’s Fiduciary Litigation Group.

For more information on the lawsuit, visit childrensrights.org/class_action/c-k-v-bassett/.

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About Disability Rights New York

Disability Rights New York is the designated independent non-profit Protection & Advocacy System empowered by Congress to investigate allegations of abuse and neglect and provide legal and non-legal advocacy services to people with disabilities in New York State. The Protection & Advocacy System was created by Congress as a direct result of the horrific conditions that were uncovered in the 1970’s at New York’s Willowbrook State School. drny.org.

About Children’s Rights

Every day, children are harmed in America’s broken child welfare, juvenile justice, education, and healthcare systems. Through relentless strategic advocacy and legal action, we hold governments accountable for keeping kids safe and healthy. Children’s Rights, a national non-profit organization, has made a lasting impact for hundreds of thousands of vulnerable children. For more information, please visit childrensrights.org.

About National Health Law Program

National Health Law Program (NHeLP) protects and advances the health rights of low-income and underserved individuals and families. NHeLP advocates, educates and litigates at the federal and state levels. Our lawyers and policy analysts stand up for the rights of the millions of people who struggle to access affordable, quality health care. We are guided by the belief – a challenge – that each generation should live better than the last. healthlaw.org.

About Proskauer Rose LLP

Proskauer is a leading international law firm serving clients from 12 offices located in the Americas, Europe, and Asia. At Proskauer, “for good” means giving of ourselves and making a positive impact on the lives of those less fortunate. Our pro bono work breaks boundaries. From high-impact litigation and complex transactions for nonprofit organizations, to matters for low-income individuals seeking equal access to justice – we are committed to driving businesses, as well as society, forward. Additional information about the firm can be found at proskauer.com.

Contacts:

Katrin Haldeman, Katrin.haldeman@drny.org
Camilla Jenkins, cjenkins@childrensrights.org
Andrew DiAntonio, diantonio@healthlaw.org
Samantha Norton, SNorton@proskauer.com
Jennifer Talbott, Jtalbott@proskauer.com