Five families sued the Louisiana Department of Health on Thursday for allegedly failing to provide their Medicaid-enrolled children with necessary mental health services.

The lawsuit in Louisiana federal court alleges the state health department and its secretary, Dr. Rebekah Gee, didn’t provide an accessible statewide mental health system of intensive home- and community-based services.

Medicaid-eligible children haven’t received the treatment they need or were cycled in and out of emergency departments and psychiatric facilities away from their families, in violation of several federal laws including the Americans with Disabilities act, according to the complaint.

“These children deserve the dignity of receiving quality mental health services that allows them to lead healthy and productive lives in their homes and communities,” said Victor Jones, senior supervising attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center, one of the organizations that filed the lawsuit on behalf of the children and their parents.

Jones said approximately 47,500 Louisiana children have intensive mental health needs and are affected by the lack of proper mental healthcare and need intensive home- or community-based services. The center hopes to represent them if the case is granted class-action status.

A spokesman for the state health department said it attempted to work with the Southern Poverty Law Center to resolve the issue without litigation, but he said he could not comment on the lawsuit.

According to the complaint, health professionals agree that intensive home- and community-based services are more effective and less expensive than institutionalizing children with mental health needs. Those services include intensive care coordination, crisis services and behavioral services and supports.

Children with untreated mental illnesses have an increased risk of chronic physical conditions and a shorter life expectancy. They struggle with school, self-esteem, strained relationships and may become involved in the juvenile justice system, according to the complaint.

The lawsuit points out that a 2018 report from the Louisiana Legislative Auditor concluded that the state “does not always provide Medicaid recipients with comprehensive and appropriate specialized behavioral health services.”

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Louisiana sued for not providing Medicaid-eligible kids mental healthcare –