A court-appointed committee that issued a highly critical report in December on the District government's efforts to integrate mentally ill residents in the community says that the city is taking significant steps to address the problems outlined in the report.
The Dixon Implementation Monitoring Committee, the group that prepared the report, concluded in the report that the city had failed to comply with a court-ratified agreement to establish a community-based mental health system. The committee found that some patients had to wait long hours at public clinics, were referred to shelters for the homeless because of a shortage of housing, and were placed in group homes that were not properly monitored.
Elizabeth Jones, spokeswoman for the committee, said the city's response has been "remarkably cooperative." After meetings between Mayor Marion Barry and committee representatives, Jones said, city officials agreed to address several key issues, particularly the availability of housing and licensing and monitoring of community facilities for the mentally ill.
The report noted that the lack of housing for the mentally ill had caused some health workers to send people released from treatment programs directly to homeless shelters. Robert Washington, the city's mental health commissioner, said the District is working on a comprehensive program for housing the mentally ill. He said the plan will be released Feb. 1, but he would not discuss how much additional housing might be created.
Before the Dixon report, the city had announced that it planned to create 47 group homes for the mentally ill in the next four years, in part to house people released as the city reduces the population of St. Elizabeths Hospital.
Meanwhile, the Dixon committee found that the city has had trouble monitoring its group homes. The committee identified what it called serious health and safety violations in some homes that had been inspected by the city.
Jones said the city has agreed to develop a rating scale to make it easier to determine the quality of care and conditions in group homes. Also, she said the city agreed to inspect each of the homes criticized in the Dixon committee report.
After the Dixon committee's criticism, the panel sent the city a notice of noncompliance with the agreement to create a community-based mental health system. If the city is able to demonstrate progress in addressing the problems, the notice will be withdrawn, Jones said.