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Interim settlement OK’d in AZ mental health case

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, (R), speaks during an interview from her office, Wednesday, May 9, 2012, at the Capitol in Phoenix. Brewer says a contraception coverage bill now on her desk is improved since when she voiced reservations about an earlier version as being intrusive. (AP Photo/Matt York)

State officials on Thursday reached an interim settlement with plaintiffs in a decades-old court case over the adequacy of Arizona’s community-based services for the seriously mentally ill.

Officials and advocates said the two-year agreement spells out medical, employment, housing and other services that will be provided to help enable thousands of seriously mentally ill people to live in communities instead of being institutionalized.

Gov. Jan Brewer, the state health director and a lawyer for the class-action plaintiffs were among those who signed the agreement at the Capitol.

“This is landmark,” Brewer remarked to aides and others after the ceremony.

The interim agreement is subject to court approval.

Anne Ronan, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said the agreement’s adoption of national standards on the adequacy of provided services is an important element because the standards will provide objective data for use in considering additional changes.

The court case has been paused for two years due to the state’s now-eased budget crisis.

The recently approved new state budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 includes $38 million in new state spending for mental health services. Brewer pushed for the Legislature to approve the funding.

A court-sponsored office to monitor’s the state’s services for the seriously mentally ill was shut down during the pause and because of the budget crisis. But the agreement calls for independent reviews to be restored.

The lawsuit was originally filed in 1981 and has been the subject of numerous legal fights and reviews as the state struggled to follow court orders and earlier compliance agreements.

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