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Lawsuits & Litigation

Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Settles 2018 Lawsuit Over Child Mental Health Care

— March 25, 2021

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services recently agreed to settle a lawsuit with a handful of families who argued their children weren’t getting adequate mental health care services.

Earlier this week, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services agreed to settle a lawsuit that was filed back in 2018 by multiple families who alleged their “children were not provided adequate treatment for significant mental health issues.” The parties involved in the suit signed an interim settlement agreement back in August “and are developing a plan to improve mental and behavioral health care for Michigan children who are enrolled in Medicaid and part of the child welfare system.”

Sad child
Sad child; image courtesy of Alexas_Fotos via Pixabay,

When commenting on the matter, Kyle Williams, Disability Rights Michigan director of litigation, said “Michigan families continue to face hurdles getting mental care for children during crises.” When making the case, he pointed to a “recent viral video in which a central Michigan father pleaded for help finding a psychiatric bed for his teenage son, who had spent over a week in an emergency room.” He added:

“It’s a story we hear with some regularity…Kids are having a crisis, they don’t have what they need in order to support them in their home or support them in their community. Parents are left with two choices: you can take them to an emergency room or you can call the police.”

The goal of the lawsuit is to ensure that kids have adequate access to mental health treatment in their communities or homes, “instead of relying on jails, emergency rooms, or psychiatric hospitals.” Williams said:

“If you can address those crises in the community and if you can give these kids what they need in order to be in the least restrictive setting, then your success…is going to be less kids in psychiatric hospitals…And whenever they go into psychiatric hospitals they’re going to be spending less time there.”

As part of the agreement signed back in August, the state “committed to providing an array of intensive home and community-based mental health services for children in need.” Additionally, the state plans to develop “a plan detailing how they will provide those services, including making sure there are enough providers throughout Michigan and measuring quality of care.” According to a budget presentation that DHHS officials gave to the House Appropriations Health and Human Services Subcommittee earlier this month, the plans are due to be ready by April.

Additionally, the executive budget plan signed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer sets aside nearly $91 million to help cover the costs associated with the settlement and “ensure better access to behavioral health services for children enrolled in Medicaid and involved in the child welfare system.

What happened, though? What prompted the lawsuit? For starters, there are seven children involved in the suit, and all of them were “approved by the state to receive intensive home and community-based mental health services but were unable to actually get them.” Instead of getting the care they desperately needed, the families “went months or years without appropriate treatment for their children, who bounced between emergency rooms and their homes, where they risked harming themselves or their families,” according to the suit.

It’s important to note that the plaintiffs were all Medicaid recipients, meaning the state was bound by the Medicaid Act. That meant the state was required to “screen them for health issues, including mental and developmental issues, and to identify services available to treat those issues during screenings.”


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