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DMH Initiates New Program to Protect Mental Health Consumers' Rights, Resolve Problems

Friday, December 5, 2003

(Washington, DC)  DC Department of Mental Health Director Martha M. Knisley announced today that a new grievance program now is available to mental health consumers enrolled in any of the 21 Core Service Agencies certified by the Department as well as patients at St. Elizabeths Hospital. The new consumer grievance program, titled FAIR - Finding Answers, Improving Relationships - provides the means to resolve consumers' grievances with their mental health service providers and uphold their rights as described in the Mental Health Consumers' Rights Protection Act of 2001.

"For the first time, the rights of consumers of mental health services provided through the District's public mental health system are protected by law," said Director Knisley.  "This is not just a Band-aid or small first step. The new grievance procedure is a commitment to ensure that any of the more than 12,000 consumers enrolled in the public mental health system have the right to complain and be heard, and to expect service providers and this Department to respond to their grievances in a timely, respectful and equitable manner.

"We are taking responsibility to make sure that no grievance is ignored and each consumer's concern is addressed," she added.

In addition to universal availability and a broad definition of what may constitute a legitimate grievance, principal features of FAIR include:

  • The right to know - Access to information will be provided on all available dispute resolution options, including but not limited to the consumer grievance procedure.
  • The right to representation - Assistance is available to consumers throughout the process, including an independent peer advocate.
  • The right to participation - Consumers help to operate the grievance procedure; individual consumers will be assisted in finding solutions to their grievances.
  • The right to independent review - Access to mediation or an advisory opinion by an external neutral will be provided if the consumer remains unsatisfied by the first attempts at resolution.
  • The right to protection - A consumer is not required to present a grievance directly to the person who is the focus of the complaint.  Retaliation for filing grievances is prohibited, and the Department monitors all grievances filed against provider agencies.
  • The right to a prompt response - Time limits exist at each stage of the process, with automatic appeal to the next level if deadlines are not met.

As the network of Core Service Agencies continues to expand, every new agency will be required to submit its grievance procedure and peer advocacy program for approval by the Department of Mental Health.

FAIR emphasizes informal attempts by all parties involved to resolve problems as early as possible, and the Department's grievance rules require providers to involve consumers in the handling and resolution of grievances. The Director of the Department of Mental Health will make a final decision in all grievances in which the consumer remains dissatisfied. The Department also is responsible for monitoring and ensuring compliance with the outcomes of grievances settled at any stage of the procedure.

The new procedure broadly defines a grievance as "the expression by an individual of his or her dissatisfaction" with either the Department of Mental Health or a certified mental health services provider, "including the denial or abuse of any consumer right or protection provided by applicable federal and District laws and regulations."

Consumers are not required to use the new grievance procedure, however, and may pursue other avenues of relief instead of or concurrent with the grievance process.

For more information about the Department of Mental Health, please visit our website.