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Judge Ends DC Mental Health Receivership

Thursday, May 23, 2002

U.S. District Court Judge Norma Holloway Johnson terminated the receivership under which the DC Department of Mental Health has operated since 1997. The judge's decision followed a hearing yesterday where attorneys representing both parties (consumers of mental health services are the plaintiffs and the District government is the defendant) to the Dixon suit, which charged the District government with failing to implement a community-based network of mental health services, agreed that sufficient progress has been made to create that system, therefore, the receivership was no longer necessary.

"This is an enormously important accomplishment. It represents the final step in the transformation from a splintered government to one government," said Mayor Anthony A. Williams. "This transformation happened because of our ability to demonstrate that we have the capacity to run the mental health system properly and build a community-based network of care. Standards governing the quality of services have been established. Providers have been certified and will be held accountable for meeting those standards."

Peter J. Nickles, who represented the plaintiffs, and Transitional Receiver Dennis R. Jones both expressed confidence in Mayor Anthony Williams' leadership and support for a sound mental health system. They also noted that DMH Director Martha B. Knisley has made sufficient progress in implementing structural reform to encourage recommending to the court that monitoring the Department's work is appropriate next step. Grace Lopes, Acting General Counsel to the Mayor, stated that the Receiver's report documents the Department's progress. She added that the parties had worked collaboratively with the Transitional Receiver to develop the exit criteria to be used to measure future implementation of the new mental health system.

Mr. Jones cited several actions that led to his conclusion that system development is on track, including enactment of legislation establishing DMH as a Cabinet-level department, implementation of the regulatory functions governing the mental health system, federal approval of a new funding model to deliver services, planning for the new hospital building on the St. Elizabeths campus, selection of key staff to lead DMH, solid progress toward a new crisis response system and a strong beginning for the system of care for children and youth.

Director Knisley said she appreciated the confidence the parties and Receiver expressed in her and her team and added that today is a milestone in the development of this new system.

At the conclusion of the hearing, Judge Johnson set September 5 as the date to report progress. Mr. Nickles noted that baseline data will be developed to be followed by specific performance measures. The final outcome of meeting the exit criteria will be ending the Dixon suit, filed in 1974. The late U.S. District Court Judge Aubrey Eugene Robinson, Jr. ruled in 1974 that mental health services must be delivered in the least restrictive environment, which for most consumers is in a community-based setting. However, little progress was made until 2001 when the Transitional Receiver's plan for the District's mental health system was approved and its implementation began.