/ Modified jan 8, 2014 4:28 p.m.

3 Decades Later: Mental Health Suit Against AZ Settled

Arnold vs. Sarn began in 1981, alleged state did not appropriately fund comprehensive mental health system.



Agreement has been reached in a 33-year-old Arizona lawsuit over care and services for the seriously mentally ill, Gov. Jan Brewer said Wednesday via press release.

The final settlement for Arnold v. Sarn will provide a variety of community-based services and programs for the severe mentally ill, such as crisis services, increased employment and housing services, family and peer support and life skills training.

"This is a landmark day for our state, particularly for the thousands of Arizonans living with serious mental illness who finally have a better access to the quality community-based resources and the care and services they deserve," Brewer said in her statement. " ... we have crafted a model behavioral health system based on best practices and well-established, proven guidelines."

Arnold v. Sarn was filed in 1981, and it alleged that the state, Arizona Department of Health Services and Maricopa County were not funding a comprehensive community-based mental health system as required by state statute established in the late 1970s.

Charles "Chick" Arnold, a Phoenix-based mental health attorney and the original plaintiff in the case, said the agreement is "historical."

"The fact that it enhances supported housing, I think is critical," he said. "It is impossible for a person to recover without a stable place to live. And so the notion of supporting people in their efforts to find stable housing I think is fabulous. Right along with that is the notion of supported employment, you gotta have a way to pay for the place you live in."

Arnold said the one catch with the settlement is money, which is in the hands of the state Legislature. However, he said he hopes that having a court-approved settlement will help state lawmakers find the needed money for the programs outlined in the resolution.

The deal will not cost extra state funding beyond $39 million a year, which was pumped into the system two years ago as part of an interim deal to end the lawsuit, The Associated Press reported.

Brewer said the expansion of Medicaid in Arizona that began Jan. 1 will help pay for some of the additional costs, AP said.

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