DOJ Probes Nebraska's Compliance with Disabilities Act

The US Department of Justice is investigating Nebraska's compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act, focusing on services for people with severe mental illness. The investigation includes town hall meetings to gather information from individuals with experience in the mental health system.

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Nitish Verma
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DOJ Probes Nebraska's Compliance with Disabilities Act

DOJ Probes Nebraska's Compliance with Disabilities Act

The US Department of Justice is investigating Nebraska's compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), focusing on services for people with severe mental illness. The investigation, led by a team of federal attorneys, aims to identify gaps in services and ensure that individuals with disabilities are served in the most integrated settings.

Why this matters: This investigation has far-reaching implications for the rights and well-being of people with severe mental illness, highlighting the need for states to prioritize community-based services over institutionalization. The findings could lead to systemic changes in Nebraska and potentially influence disability services nationwide.

As part of the probe, the DOJ team will hold town hall meetings in four locations across Nebraska to gather information from individuals with experience in the mental health system, including people with mental illness, family members, service providers, and others. The meetings will take place on Tuesday in Lincoln and Omaha, and on Wednesday in Kearney and Scottsbluff. Individuals who cannot attend the meetings can email comments to Nicole Zeitler, DOJ trial attorney.

The investigation follows complaints that people with severe mental illness in Nebraska struggle to access necessary services to live and work in the community. This has led to individuals ending up in jails, homeless shelters, and other inappropriate settings. The state's reliance on "mini-institutions" and assisted living facilities has been criticized for substandard living conditions, abuse, neglect, and mismanagement.

A similar investigation in North Carolina concluded with a report finding that the state was not in compliance with the ADA, particularly due to its reliance on "adult care homes" for the care of people with severe mental illnesses. The findings led to a settlement agreement in 2012.

"This is a fact-finding event," said Dianne DeLair, legal services director for Disability Rights Nebraska. The DOJ team has previously visited assisted living facilities and other places where people with severe mental illness often end up.

Nebraska, like many states, curtailed the use of state psychiatric hospitals for the care of people with severe mental illnesses but did not follow through with creating the services needed to help people transition to successful community living. People with severe mental illnesses have had struggles with law enforcement, including Zachary Bear Heels' fatal encounter with Omaha police in 2017.

The ongoing investigation by the US Department of Justice into Nebraska's compliance with the ADA for individuals with severe mental illness underscores the challenges states face in providing appropriate community-based services. The town hall meetings aim to identify gaps and gather crucial input from those with direct experience in the mental health system as the DOJ works to ensure Nebraska meets its obligations under federal disability law.

Key Takeaways

  • US DOJ investigates Nebraska's compliance with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for people with severe mental illness.
  • Probe focuses on gaps in services and institutionalization vs. community-based care.
  • Town hall meetings to gather input from individuals with mental illness, family members, and service providers.
  • Investigation follows complaints of inadequate services, leading to inappropriate settings like jails and shelters.
  • Findings could lead to systemic changes in Nebraska and influence disability services nationwide.