Author: The PLS Reporter/Friday, March 28, 2014/Categories: News and Views


By Mike Howells


The Olmstead decision rendered by the US Supreme Court in 1999, which found holding an individual with disabilities in an institution without justification to be violative of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), presented a variety of implications for patients and care providers in Pennsylvania. On Monday, the House Human Services committee will hold a public hearing on the Olmstead ruling and its impact on care for the intellectually disabled in the commonwealth.


The Commonwealth was only indirectly involved in Olmstead v. L.C., which was filed in 1995 by Atlanta Legal Aid Society, Inc. on behalf of Lois Curtis and Elaine Wilson against the Georgia Department of Human Resources. Pennsylvania was among 22 states that initially filed an amicus brief in support of Georgia’s appeal to the Supreme Court, which formed the basis for the Olmstead case. However by the filing deadline, Pennsylvania had removed itself from the brief. Nevertheless, like all states the Commonwealth was greatly impacted by the outcome of the case.


Following the 6-3 ruling, it became a requirement for states to enact "Olmstead Plans," in effect roadmaps towards compliance with the Supreme Court's opinion that individuals need to be integrated into their communities to the greatest extent possible under the provisions of the ADA.


There is contention over whether the Pennsylvania ever instituted an "Olmstead Plan," however.


In 2004 the Department of Public Welfare's Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (OMHSAS) was reorganized and renewed efforts were made to "develop community resources to support the discharge of any individual who has been in the state hospital for over two years," efforts detailed in a report entitled Supporting the Journey: Transforming Pennsylvania's Behavioral Health System. (PDF)


However in 2004, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals found in Frederick L. v. Department of Public Welfare that the documentation provided by DPW “falls far short of the type of plan that we believe the Court referred to in Olmstead.”


According to OMHSAS, there was a plan implemented in 2011. Reflecting on the plan that year, the Mental Health Association in Pennsylvania described it as a reflection of "the Commonwealth’s decision to end the unnecessary institutionalization of adults who have a serious and persistent mental illness." That plan was subsequently revised in 2013. In its letter introducing the revised 2013 plan, OMHSAS explained the revisions detail "specific steps the Commonwealth, in partnership with the counties, will take to ensure essential and appropriate community supports are in place to serve individuals as they transition from institutions to communities of their choice." In the past year OMHSAS hosted a series of nine regional focus group forums, which involved meeting with more than 500 stakeholders, including service recipients, family members, care providers and government officials.


Maureen Cronin, executive director of the Arc of Pennsylvania, contends there has yet to be a true Olmstead Plan laid out by state government, in particular under the auspices of the Office of Developmental Programs (ODP).


"Let's see it," she remarks, pointing out that despite requests to the department, they have yet to be furnished with documents that satisfy the guidelines laid out by the courts.


She reports there are still a thousand individuals remaining in five state hospitals across Pennsylvania, all of whom the Arc wants to see placed in appropriate community settings. For the time being the Arc is advocating for a moratorium on new patients admitted to state institutions, a ban on admitting children, and the development of a timeline for moving all people out of state hospitals. Cronin acknowledges an ultimate resolution will require leadership by state officials to make “tough decisions.”


According to Liz Yarnell, a research analyst for the Human Services Committee, discussion on Monday will focus on the experiences of those with intellectual disabilities. Groups testifying include The Arc of Pennsylvania, the University Centers for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (UCEDD) Institute on Disabilities, Temple University's Department of Teaching and Learning, Self Advocates United as 1, and the PA Waiting List Campaign, among others.


March is "Intellectual Disabilities Awareness Month" in Pennsylvania, with resolutions by Rep. Tarah Toohil (R-Luzerne) and Sen. Bob Mensch (R-Montgomery) adopted in both chambers of the legislature.


The hearing is scheduled for 11:00 a.m. to be held in Room 60 East Wing.