ST. LOUIS (AP) — A federal judge has approved the settlement of a lawsuit filed on behalf of more than 1,000 deaf Missourians, claiming the state failed to provide adequate mental health services for the deaf.
U.S. District Judge Matt Whitworth approved the settlement Thursday in Jefferson City in the suit filed by the Missouri Association of the Deaf and 13 named plaintiffs. The suit accused the state of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by not providing adequate mental health care for the deaf.
Among the settlement’s many provisions, it requires greater availability of sign language interpreters, the development of outpatient and inpatient centers that are staffed with clinicians and case managers trained in aiding the deaf and better training to ensure mental health professionals can assist the deaf.
The suit, filed in April 2010, said the lack of sign language interpreters at mental health facilities resulted in many deaf people being misdiagnosed or failing to get proper treatment. An advocate for the deaf blamed three suicides in St. Louis on inadequate mental health care. The suit claimed the deaf sometimes fail to receive treatment because of a lack of a sign language interpreter.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs say about 20 percent of deaf persons in need of mental health services are children.
Missouri Association of the Deaf president Ella Eakins said the settlement “addresses concerns from deaf Missourians dating back many years about inadequate mental health services for deaf persons in crisis.”
Messages left Friday with a spokesman for the Missouri Department of Social Services were not returned.
The settlement requires the state to develop outpatient mental health centers for the deaf in St. Louis and/or Kansas City, as well as an inpatient unit at Truman Behavioral Health in Kansas City. All centers are to be staffed with clinicians and case workers fluent in sign language or that have special training to help the deaf. It also requires the state to hire either a full-time state coordinator for deaf mental health services or two part-time regional coordinators.
The state also agreed to establish a 24-hour crisis hotline specifically for the deaf.
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