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Ruling broadens rights of patients to sue for improper mental health care

Maricopa County residents who receive mental health care from the Regional Behavioral Health Authority are no longer required to file official complaints with the state before asking the courts for civil damages for medical mistreatment.

The change was the result of an April 7 decision by Court of Appeals judge Carey Snyder Hyatt in the case of Bailey-Null v. Value Options.

The court ruling reversed an earlier decision by the Maricopa County Superior Court that denied damages to mental health patient Mikayla Bailey-Null because she failed to follow the complaint process established by the Arizona Department of Health Services, the agency charged with managing the state's mental health service network.

Bailey-Null filed the lawsuit in 2006 after receiving improper care at a clinic run by ValueOptions, a private company that held a contract with the state for more than a decade to provide mental health care to Maricopa County residents.

According to court records, Bailey-Null was forcibly injected with unknown medication, unnecessarily restrained and denied pain medication without explanation during her two-day visit to the county's Psychiatric Recover Center in 2004.

Bailey-Null filed a complaint citing rights violations with the officials at the Department of Health Services, who agreed that she had been mistreated but determined that there was "not sufficient evidence to fashion a good remedy."

Instead of moving to the next step of the department's complaint process, Bailey-Null filed a civil suit against ValueOptions. The superior court's original ruling dismissed her claim because it did not have jurisdiction unless Bailey-Null could prove that she had exhausted the grievance options offered by the department.

Hyatt's decision returns the case to the Maricopa County Superior Court, where judges will review in order to award damages to Bailey-Null. 

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