Accused of playing "political volleyball". with the lives of California's mentally disabled, Gov. Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr. was sued today for the alleged "unnecessary confinement" of thousands of state mental hospital patients due to his failure to set up adequate community services for them.
The suit, fild on behalf of a former and a current patient at the state hospitals, aswell as the Mental Health Association in Califormia seeks to force the budget-conscious Brown administration to fund major new programs that would help many hospital patients transfer over to less restrictive community facilities.
The plaintiffs in the suit rejected proposals, set forth last week by the Brown administration to revise the state mental health program, as poorly conceived and woefully underfunded.
"All the governor ever does is give us paper proposals so he can say, 'i'm really a nice guy,' but if we quiet down there'll be no chance of these people ever gettin adequate care," said Ray Dawson, spokesman for the Mental Health Association. "I just don't appreciate him playing political volleyball with the mentally ill."
Conditions at California's mental hospitals and other state programs for the mentally disabled have become a major source of conflict between the governor and groups like the Mental Health Association.
For the last two years Brown has been publicly pledging himself to "de-institutionalize" the state's approach toward the mentally disabled, turning patients out of rigidly run mental hospitals to more permissive, flexible community facilities.
But, according to attorneys at the Western Center on Law and Poverty, Brown's funding of state mental health programs has been so low as to make impossible any such transfer of state mental hospital patients.
One of the plaintiffs in the suit, whose name the attorneys are keeping seeret to protect his privacy, has spent the last four years at Metropolitan State Hospital near Los Angeles because of the lack of adequate commuity care facilities, according to the western center.
Gray Davis, Brown's chief of staff, insisted that the state has been doing everything in its power to help move mental patients out of th e hospitals within budgetary constraints. Davis said the state had already appropriated some $25 million more than last year to serve the needs of California's mentally disabled citizens.
"I think societal guilt on this issue is so widespread that we could open up the entire state treasury and we could not provide enough care for patients," Davis said. "But on about any yardstick we have indicated the high priority that we have ascribed to these programs. We're doing the best we can in the Proposition-13 era."
Attorneys for the plaintiffs in the suit, however. claimed that the additicnal $25 million in funding somewhat less than a 10 percent increase over last year -- is "woefully inadequate" and "barely keeps pace with inflation." This opinion was shared by several leading state health officials and Dr. Richard Elpers, director of the Los Angeles County De partment of Mental Health.