(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – U.S. District Court Judge Thomas F. Hogan today gave preliminary approval to a settlement agreement that moves the District closer to an end to court oversight of its public mental health system. The judge also set December 31, 2011 as the deadline for public comment. Judge Hogan will review any comments submitted by the public, hold a public hearing and then make a final ruling on the fairness of the settlement.
The Court has maintained jurisdiction over the District’s mental health system for the past 37 years under the terms of a lawsuit —known as the Dixon case — relating to the provision of adequate community-based mental health treatment. The settlement reflects substantial past compliance with court-ordered requirements and outlines future actions by the District to provide additional services and support.
“The settlement agreement between the District government and the Dixon class is a significant milestone towards ending this longstanding litigation,” said Mayor Vincent C. Gray. “It resulted from significant progress in the District’s public mental health system and commits us to further improvements by increasing affordable housing and job opportunities for adults and expanding services proven to have good outcomes for children, youth and their families. We hope this will serve as a precedent for other federal court consent decrees under which the District has been operating for many years.”
Mayor Gray commended Court Monitor Denny Jones and plaintiffs’ counsel Covington and Burling for their willingness to work with the District to achieve an end end to court oversight. He also thanked the plaintiffs’ counsel for their willingness to waive attorneys’ fees. In addition, he recognized Department of Mental Health Director Stephen T. Baron and his staff for their dedicated efforts that made this result possible.
When the Dixon lawsuit was filed in 1974, more than 3,600 patients were in St. Elizabeths Hospital, the District’s inpatient psychiatric facility. Today, more than 98 percent of District residents who use the public mental health system are treated in community mental health clinics, and the hospitalized population is less than 300 patients.
During the public comment period, the District will mail the settlement agreement to approximately 27,000 residents who receive services from the Department of Mental Health, post it on the Department’s website (www.dmh.dc.gov) and make copies available at community clinics.
“We believe the settlement agreement sustains and builds on the progress we’ve made to build a high-quality mental health system”, said Baron. “We want people to know about it and provide us and the court with their comments.”
For more information about the Dixon case and the District’s compliance, go to www.dmh.dc.gov.