DMHSA defends actions: Officials respond to motion for receivership
By Agnes E. Donato
Pacific Sunday News
September 20, 2009
Facing possible takeover by a federal receiver, local government officials yesterday defended their handling of mental health services on Guam.
The government of Guam, the officials said, has made strides in improving services to people with mental health and developmental disabilities over the past eight months,and said the government can do more, if given just a little more time.
A motion filed Friday night on behalf of three people with disabilities asks the District Court of Guam to appoint a receiver to run federally required services to people with mental health and developmental disabilities.
The motion follows years of the local government's failure to improve services to people with mental health and developmental disabilities, according to court papers filed Friday.
The local government, according to the court filing, has shown a "cycle of failure" to live up to a 7-year-old federal court order to improve mental health services on the island.
But David Shimizu, a former senator and now director of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, said he hopes the court will also recognize the agency's "cycle of improvement" since he took the helm in January.
He said the recent hiring of psychiatrists and psychologists has enhanced the care provided by Mental Health to patients.
Sen. Frank Aguon, chairman of the legislative committee that oversees health programs, also pointed to the "significant progress" made at Mental Health since the beginning of the year.
He said the agency recently added certified nurses to its staff and opened an in-house unit dedicated to providing mental health services for children.
The Legislature, he said, has shown its support for more improvements at Mental Health when it passed the fiscal 2010 budget, which grants the agency $5 million more that it previously got. The additional funding will become available to Mental Health on Oct. 1.
"I hope the judge will hold off on any drastic decision and recognize what Mental Health and the Legislature have done to get us out of the injunction," said Aguon.
If District Court Judge Consuelo Marshall grants the Justice Department's motion, the mental health agency would be the second government of Guam department to be placed under federal receivership.
District Court of Guam Chief Judge Frances Tydingco-Gatewood in March last year took trash management away from the local government and placed it in under the authority of a court-appointed receiver, after GovGuam continuously failed to meet court-ordered deadlines.
The mental health agency and the Department of Integrated Services for Individuals with Disabilities have been under a permanent injunction since 2004 to improve services and facilities for people with mental and developmental disabilities. The order follows a 2001 lawsuit filed against the government of Guam for failure to provide adequate mental health services.