Settlement to extend mental disability care

This story was published on May 10, 2002 on Page B4 in all editions of the Bangor Daily News

PORTLAND – Hundreds of mentally disabled children who are currently on waiting lists will receive in-home care from the state under the settlement terms of a class-action lawsuit announced Wednesday.

Two Augusta-area families alleged in the lawsuit that the state failed to meet standards of care for their children that are required under federal law.

The settlement mandates that mentally impaired children be evaluated more quickly than under the current system.

Children will not have to wait more than six months for approved treatment, and needed services will continue without interruption for the 2,400 children who now receive in-home care.

The lawsuit, filed in Bangor in July 2000, originated with Jill Risinger, 16, of Winslow, who has Angleman’s Syndrome, a form of mental retardation.

Her case was joined by the family of Eric Fitzpatrick, 14, who suffers from a variety of conditions including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, post traumatic stress disorder and speech and language difficulties.

Both families claimed that the state failed to provide “timely, adequate and reliable” services required by state and federal law.

They did not seek monetary damages. Instead, they asked the court to mandate systemic reforms.

Last July, U.S. District Court Judge Gene Carter ruled that all children with mental impairment who were not getting timely in-home services from the state would become plaintiffs.

According to the settlement, state officials will be required to file reports with Carter for the next two years.

Susan Risinger, Jill’s mother, said she is pleased with the settlement terms.

“The state has now set standards that will make things better, so the kids will get what they are entitled to,” she said.

In-home behavioral support for mentally impaired children is required under federal Medicaid law in states that offer children’s mental health benefits.

The federal government will pay for two-thirds of the state’s costs in implementing the settlement.

Lynn Duby, commissioner of the state Department of Behavioral and Developmental Services, said no one is sure what impact the settlement will have on the state budget.

William Kayatta, the lawyer who negotiated the settlement on behalf of the plaintiffs, said the agreement lets the state determine how to meet the deadlines.