Do People with Psychiatric Disabilities Belong in Institutions?

CW: Institutionalization

A disability rights group filed a federal complaint alleging that Pennsylvania is unnecessarily segregating individuals with psychiatric disabilities in state institutions rather than giving them the medical care they require in more appropriate community settings, which they are legally entitled to.

Disability Rights Pennsylvania filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania on Monday. It names the state’s Acting Secretary of Human Services, Valerie Arkoosh as a defendant In Clarks Summit, Danville, Norristown, Torrance, Warren, and Wernersville, the government runs six state hospitals.

The plaintiffs are a 38-year-old man with bipolar disorder who has lived at Wenersville State Hospital since 2017, and a 21-year-old man with bipolar disorder who has resided at Warren State Hospital since 2021.

According to the lawsuit, the state has failed to develop an infrastructure of community mental health services and supports that can serve people in smaller, community-based settings rather than crowded institutions due to inadequate funding.

The state of Pennsylvania could also be in violation of The Olmstead decision . In June 1999, the Supreme Court issued the landmark Olmstead v. L.C. decision, which compelled all states to prohibit unnecessary segregation of people disabled and ensure that they receive services in the most integrated setting possible. Lois Curtis and Elaine Wilson, both disabled women living in Georgia nursing homes, were involved in this case. Curtis and Wilson requested that state officials allow them to live in the community in their own homes.

When the state declined their request, Atlanta Legal Aid’s Susan Jamieson filed a lawsuit on their behalf. After numerous appeals, the Supreme Court heard the case. The Supreme Court ruled that services for disabled people must be provided “in the most integrated setting possible”.

The participation of individuals with disabilities in community settings has significantly improved due to this decision. However, many Americans with disabilities still reside unnecessarily in nursing homes and institutions.

Pennsylvania is not the only state that has unjustly kept people in state institutions. Last year, Department Of Justice found that Maine violates the civil rights of children with disabilities. Maine violates the civil rights of disabled children by institutionalizing them rather than offering them supports and services that would enable them to remain with their families.

According to the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division inquiry, Maine’s behavioral health providers had long waitlists, limited coverage in remote regions, insufficient crisis assistance, and a lack of support for foster parents of disabled children.

Where someone lives shouldn’t determine when people get help or how much help they receive. Disabled people, regardless of their age, have the right to live in their communities. It makes no difference whether a person is a child or an adult. A five-year-old has the same right to live in the community as a 50-year-old.


Dress, Brad. “DOJ: Maine Violating ADA, over-Institutionalizing Children with Disabilities.” The Hill, The Hill, 22 June 2022,

Giammarise , Kate. “Lawsuit Alleges Pa. Unnecessarily Keeping People in State Hospitals.” 90.5 WESA, NPR, 17 Apr. 2023,

“How Two Women Changed Thousands of Lives.” Disability Rights Texas, Disability Rights Texas, 17 June 2019,

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