State settles lawsuit, agrees to provide more services to mentally ill youth

SEATTLE --  Tina Fricke is one of 10 children who filed a class-action lawsuit against the state of Washington; the suit represented thousands of young people in the state who use Medicaid insurance and need intensive mental health services. In a settlement, the state agreed to provide more in-home and community-oriented treatment for mentally ill youth receiving Medicaid.

tinafrickeProviding such home and community-based care can help prevent hospitalization, long in-patient stays and placement in foster care and juvenile justice facilities.

“I think it is important to give kids access to treatment at home. This allows them to be with other kids and their families,” Fricke said.

Fricke, now 19, graduated from high school and is preparing for college while she's living at home with her father.

Friday, a proposed settlement agreement that outlines a plan to deliver intensive in-home treatment to youth using Washington’s Medicaid system was filed with federal U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Zilly.

"This settlement agreement is a significant accomplishment and puts Washington among the leaders in the country in reforming the mental health system and providing Medicaid services to children," Kimberly Lewis, managing attorney at the National Health Law Program, said.

David Carlson, Director of Legal Advocacy at Disability Rights Washington added that the "team of lawyers we assembled to represent the youth reflects the national significance of this case.”

Disability Rights Washington teamed with the international law firm Perkins Cole (working pro bono), lawyers from the National Center for Youth Law and the National Health Law Program, as well as Young Minds Advocacy Project, a newly founded non-profit that advocates for low-income youth that have mental health needs.

In the agreement, the defendants in the case, the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services and the Health Care Authority, commit to provide class members with intensive care coordination and intensive home and community based services, and mobile crisis intervention and stabilization services.

“Children will be served in a collaborative team setting that puts youth and families at the center of planning and treatment," Leecia Welch said. Welch is the senior attorney for the National Center for Youth Law,

The objective of the settlement agreement is to deliver the medically necessary services to all eligible class members in a timely manner, regardless of their state of residence. Due to the size and scope of the system reform, it could take as long as five years to complete implementation.

“The plaintiffs and the state agreed that the needs of these most vulnerable children, youth and their families would not be served by a long, drawn-out litigation. We determined that providing intensive services in their homes and communities is the best approach to improving the outcomes for children and youth with the greatest need.” Jane Beyer, DSHS assistant secretary for Behavioral Health and Service Integration, said.

The proposed settlement agreement must be reviewed by class members and approved by the court. For the next few months, class members will have an opportunity to review the agreement, learn more about it through training provided around the state, talk to the attorneys who represent the plaintiffs, and submit opinions about the proposed settlement agreement to class counsel and the court.

“We are confident that thecourt will approve this agreement,” Patrick Gardner, President of Young Minds Advocacy Project, said. “It commits the state to increase access to care to thousands of young people who need intensive services and support to remain safely in their homes, succeed in school, and avoid getting into trouble.”