Apr 272010

The Missouri Association of the Deaf and 13 deaf Missourians sued the the Missouri Department of Mental Health today in a federal civil suit alleging that the state is providing inadequate mental health services.

According to the lawsuit, the state has violated federal law for years by failing to provide equal mental health care for the deaf. The state has long failed to providing mental health professionals who are fluent in American Sign Language and understand of deaf culture, or properly trained interpreters, they say.

Ken Chackes, one of the lawyers who filed the suit, called it a “heatlh crisis” that has resulted in three recent suicides in the St. Louis area.

An estimated 1,100 deaf Missourians require some sort of mental health assistance, according to the state. The suit is seeking to represent all deaf Missourians in need of care.

A spokesman for the department said that a statement in response to the suit was forthcoming.

For the department’s 2011 budget, “services for special populations such as persons who are deaf with mental health problems,” is listed as sixth of 13 priorities. And in a recent memo regarding the 2011 budget, the department acknowledged that, “DMH’s services are often ‘one size fits all’ and this is particularly problematic for special populations, such as persons who are deaf or hard of hearing with mental health problems. DMH must continue its efforts to specialize services for these populations.”

Through an interpreter, several of the named plaintiffs in the suit and Ella Eakins, president of the Missouri Association of the Deaf, spoke of years of frustration and unsuccessful attempts to obtain therapy and counseling at a press conference announcing the suit.

Eakins and others at a press conference Monday said that the department wastes money on hiring interpreters when they could better spend the money on training therapists and counselors, or hiring those who can sign.

Thanks to Bob Crowell, NVRC and Gary Viall.

– Written by Robert Patrick, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 4/26/10