By Matt Cooper, The Register-Guard
Wednesday, Jul 20, 2011
The state has settled its portion of a federal lawsuit in which mental health clients alleged discrimination by Lane County and the state for the closure of a Springfield service provider in 2009.
Four plaintiffs sought $1.4 million under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act for closure of Valia Health Resources by the county and state health departments. The clinic — one of the first full-service, peer-run mental health care providers in Oregon — served people with schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder and other disorders.
The state will not pay the plaintiffs but will pay $48,000 toward peer-delivered services by Crystal Dimensions, another local nonprofit provider composed of disabled volunteers and disabled clients.
“The state defendants individually and collectively deny the allegations and claims by the plaintiffs … and more generally deny any wrongdoing by any state agency or employee as to any matter affecting the plaintiffs or alleged by the plaintiffs,” the signed settlement reads. “The state nonetheless seeks to make the most efficient use of state resources and supports the goal of providing peer-delivered services to the extent that they can be delivered effectively and appropriately.”
Plaintiff Drake Ewbank, a former Valia operations coordinator, said plaintiffs sought no money individually but only to replace services lost with the clinic’s closure.
The state is “a wise steward of the public trust,” Ewbank said. “We believe the state really took an objective step backward and looked at the benefits to the client population.”
The county said it closed Valia for failing to comply with federal Medicaid requirements, inconsistent care for clients and supervision of staff and improper billing for some service reimbursements. The state and the county work jointly in overseeing expenditure of Medicaid funds.
But plaintiffs Ewbank, Elizabeth Snow, Daniel Burdick and Linda Thoms — some of whom worked at the agencies in question — said in their suit that Rob Rockstroh, director of Lane County Health and Human Services, and state officials “discriminated, coerced, and retaliated against the plaintiffs” by establishing a culture at their agencies “of tolerated discriminatory communications and discriminatory behavior directed toward the disabled.”
Rockstroh declined comment. No court date has been set for hearing the suit, county spokeswoman Amber Fossen said in an e-mail.
“We’re in the early stages of (pretrial) discovery,” Fossen said. “It is too premature to comment on where this might end up.”