A class-action lawsuit was brought against New York State for denying Medicaid-eligible children their legal right to mental health care.

The suit was brought by Disability Rights New York, Children’s Rights, the National Health Law Program and Proskauer Rose LLP.

The lawsuit is brought on behalf of Medicaid-eligible children under the age of 21 with mental health conditions. It asserts that despite federal laws requiring mental health services be available and provided to the state’s Medicaid children and youth, New York administers an inadequate, inaccessible and fragmented mental health system for these children and youth.

As detailed in the complaint, because of the lack of home- and community-based mental health services, Medicaid-eligible children across New York today languish as their mental health conditions deteriorate. Without intensive services in their homes and communities, children with mental health disabilities are unnecessarily placed in psychiatric hospitals and similar institutions for extended periods, where they are separated from their families and communities and fail to thrive.

Without these services, desperate families often have no alternative but to rely on hospital emergency rooms to provide short-term care that fails to address children’s underlying conditions. Too often, police officers are the only available emergency responders to children in mental distress.

One of the named plaintiffs in the case of 15-year-old who has cycled in and out of hospitals, emergency rooms and residential institutions, has mental health needs that continue to go unmet. For years his mother tried unsuccessfully to get him home- and community-based care, which experts say leads to the best long-term outcomes for children. Today, he thinks about suicide and is at risk of being institutionalized yet again.

In New York, more than 2,200,000 children and adolescents are enrolled in Medicaid, with thousands of children requiring home- and community-based mental health services. As described in the complaint, mental health concerns among children have reached crisis levels, with more than one in ten teenagers in the state suffering a major depressive episode, with surges of youth visiting New York’s emergency rooms due to mental health crises and suicide being one of the leading causes of death for youth aged 5 to 19. The complaint further notes that the impact falls disproportionately on youth from low-income families and children of color, who already face myriad struggles that harm their mental health, including racial discrimination. The rate of Black youth suicide is increasing faster than any other racial or ethnic group.

As reflected in the complaint, the benefits of home- and community-based mental health services have been borne out by expert medical opinion and court decisions across the country. Such services result in the best long-term outcomes for children, including significant improvement in their quality of life, improved school attendance and performance, increases in emotional and behavioral strength, more stable living situations, reduced suicide attempts, and fewer contacts with law enforcement.

“We brought this lawsuit because the state has failed to provide the services required by federal Medicaid law. Access to intensive home- and community-based mental health services, including intensive care coordination, in-home behavioral supports, and mobile crisis intervention, is critical for New York’s Medicaid-eligible children and youth to keep them at home and out of psychiatric hospitals and institutions,” said Kimberly Lewis, managing attorney at the National Health Law Program.