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Feds say Louisiana violates civil rights of thousands with serious mental illness

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NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) -

The U.S. Department of Justice says the State of Louisiana is violating the civil rights of thousands of people with serious mental illness. 

In a letter to the governor, The DOJ says its investigation found the state in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, saying, "approximately 4,000 people with serious mental illness are currently institutionalized in costly Louisiana nursing facilities where they are isolated and segregated from their families, friends, and communities." 

The feds also say those individuals, "often spend years in nursing facilities that provide minimal mental health services and apart from paid staff, they rarely interact with people who do not have disabilities." 

Vickie Ryan, who is executive director of the non-profit advocacy group Mental Health America of Louisiana, was very concerned by the findings.

"You can believe that this issue will certainly be high on our priority list," she said. "First of all, this is a nursing home, so the majority of the people that live there are sick, and if they're not, they're so much older, and that person who understands - they feel that they don't belong there. That leads them to become further isolated." 

We reached out to the Louisiana Department of Health about this story. In a statement, Press Secretary Kelly Zimmerman said, "Creating a full continuum of care that includes both inpatient care and home and community-based care for people with mental illnesses has been a long-standing challenge in Louisiana that has spanned multiple administrations. We will review the Department of Justice's recommendations and will work with stakeholders and legislators to determine the best path forward."

The Department of Justice says many of those institutionalized in costly nursing facilities can and want to live in the community. The department adds, "Louisiana likely could serve these people more effectively and for less money by using its home- and community-based service system."

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