North Carolina has fallen short of goals for community housing for people with mental illness, but says it is working to meet the terms of an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice.
To avoid a federal lawsuit over inappropriate institutionalization of people with mental illnesses, the state agreed in 2012 to find more housing in the community, provide more community mental health services and develop supportive employment for people who are in adult care homes or on track to enter one.
The Department of Justice, in a November letter, said the state had failed to address gaps in services and to reach July 2015 goals for housing and supportive employment, which provides assistance with job tasks, coaching and followup with employees and employers. The state had agreed to provide at least 708 people access to housing by the middle of last year.
In a December reply to the Justice Department, state Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Rick Brajer said Justice was undercounting the people who had been provided housing. He acknowledged that the state had not hit its target.
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As of June 30, the state had provided housing to 519 people covered by the settlement, Brajer wrote, exceeding by more than 100 the count by the reviewer who was monitoring the state’s compliance.
Jessica Keith, the DHHS special adviser on the Americans with Disabilities Act, said Tuesday that the number is 651. By July 2020, the state is supposed to have provided 3,000 slots.
DHHS is working with the Housing Finance Agency to develop a statewide housing plan, has worked on identifying gaps in services and is working on providing supportive employment to more people covered by the settlement, Brajer wrote.
“The State respectfully disagrees with the assessment of the State’s ‘ongoing noncompliance’ with the agreement,” he wrote. “Your letter is untimely, as the State continues to make marked efforts and changes in support of being in substantial compliance with the agreement by June 30, 2020.”
The Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Health and Human Services heard an update on the agreement Tuesday.
Keith told legislators that the state has funded 44 additional transition coordinators and 24 more “in-reach specialists” to work at regional mental health agencies. The in-reach specialists talk to people living in adult care homes about options living in the community. Transition coordinators help people who want to live in the community find mental health, physical health and other services they need.
The state has done considerable work to comply with the agreement, said Emery Milliken, the lawyer for DHHS. “It really is building and transforming a system in North Carolina, a system of how we deliver services. And there is along the way course correction that will be necessary, and that is a part of the agreement.”