Gov. Andrew Cuomo brought an end to a shameful chapter in New York's history last week when he agreed to settle a suit over the mistreatment of mentally ill people who have been unnecessarily confined in nursing homes.
During the 1990s the state began shunting people who left state psychiatric hospitals into prison-style nursing homes, where they were barred from going outside, had little contact with others and had almost no ability to object to confinement. Under the settlement, New York will move as many of them as possible into community housing, where they will receive the services they need to live independently.
Federal disability law forbids warehousing of the disabled and requires the states to house and care for them in the least restrictive setting. The aim is to integrate the mentally ill into the communities where they live.
Advocates for people with mental illness, led by Disability Advocates, filed suit in 2006. They charged that the state's practice violated federal law and did little to give people the psychiatric treatment or life skills training they needed to live independently.
Under the settlement, the state will adopt a new discharge policy under which only those who cannot be cared for in the community will be sent to nursing homes. Over the next three years, more than a thousand nursing home residents will be evaluated to determine whether they are suited for independent living. New York also agreed to develop 200 units of housing that would be appropriate for this population. It is long past time to move these people into more humane, integrated settings.