A two-year investigation conducted by the Justice Department has uncovered some unsettling news. Throughout the state of Louisiana, an estimated 4,000 mentally ill people are being kept, unnecessarily, in expensive nursing homes with little to no contact with friends and family. They’re being deprived of independent living, all because the state has failed to provide the residents with better options.
Because nursing homes are often ill-equipped with the necessary services to handle the mentally ill, many entities and organizations are stepping forward to accuse the State of Louisiana of violating the civil rights of thousands of mentally ill residents. In fact, the Justice Department’s investigation concluded that Louisiana has violated both state and federal laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act, that requires states to offer better options to people with disabilities outside of traditional institutionalization. According to the report, “Louisiana’s unnecessary reliance on nursing facilities violates the civil rights of people with a serious mental illness. By contrast, community integration will permit the State to support these individuals in settings appropriate to their needs and in a cost-effective manner.”
What do community integration options look like? Well, community-based services, for starters. Options like community-based services are often more affordable than nursing homes and institutionalization, and allow those with mental disabilities to be treated in the comfort of their homes. This option also allows for independent living, something absent from the nursing homes that thousands are being cooped up in now.
Aren’t there already community-based programs in place for Louisiana’s mentally ill? Well, yes and no. While the state does offer a handful of community-based programs, like housing assistance and at-home primary health care services, the investigation concluded there simply aren’t enough resources available. It’s actually the lack of adequate community-based services that is resulting in such a high number of mentally ill residents turning up in Louisiana’s nursing homes. Additionally, the lack of services is what has Louisiana ranking among the highest in the nation in terms of the percentage of people in nursing homes with serious mental illnesses. As it stands right now, about 14.5% of Louisiana nursing home residents have a serious mental health illness.
Clearly, something needs to be done about the situation. Not only is it absurd that the mentally ill aren’t receiving adequate care, but the cost of treating these residents in nursing homes instead of in the community is through the roof. According to the Justice Department, it’s estimated that Louisiana is spending up to $7,000 more per person each year when treating them in a nursing home as opposed to other options, like community-based services.
The sad part about this entire situation is that many of the residents being institutionalized can and actually want to integrate back into the community. Many long for independence and a life where they can interact with friends and family again. Unfortunately, change might be slow to come. According to a statement from Secretary Kelly Zimmerman of the Louisiana Department of Health, “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.” One can only hope that solutions are put in place to better serve Louisiana’s mentally ill residents, and soon.