San Clemente, Calif. — Nov. 4, 2016 — On October 25th, the city of San Clemente filed an amended and baseless complaint against Sovereign Health, a leading national provider of behavioral health treatment services, in state court. This filing is nothing more than a shameless retaliation for Sovereign Health filing its own amended complaint against the city in federal court. Sovereign sued the city in federal court for its illegal ordinances and its unlawful conduct prohibiting veterans and the mentally ill from receiving the treatment they deserve.
Mental health patients are a protected class under federal law. Their rights are guaranteed by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Fair Housing Act (FHA). Despite these constitutional protections, San Clemente public officials, succumbing to localized bigotry and NIMBYism (Not In My Back Yard), have recently congratulated themselves for passing ordinances and filing lawsuits seeking to drive those with disabilities from the city’s borders, and forcing them to reside in designated small slivers of the city. But since the law protects the disabled just as zealously as it protects against racial discrimination, the city’s recent actions are no different than if Councilmembers Bob Baker, Tim Brown, Lori Donchak, Chris Hamm, and Kathleen Ward were to pat themselves on the back and issue gloating press releases for an ordinance requiring African-American or Asian-American families to obtain business licenses just to live together in segregated areas of the city.
These egregious actions by the city of San Clemente feeds the stigma against those with mental health disorders and threatens to prevent Sovereign Health from providing patient care to its most vulnerable patients.
San Clemente’s perversion of justice started in August of 2015, when the city began its discriminatory campaign by suing every substance abuse treatment provider in the city. The original complaint against Sovereign was a scattershot of unsubstantiated charges. In October of 2015, Sovereign Health and Vedanta Laboratories, a toxicology laboratory that does not treat patients, sued the city of San Clemente in federal court for discrimination and civil rights violations. At that time, the city may have been unaware of similar actions filed by other municipalities including Newport Beach resulting in multimillion dollar judgments against the cities that had filed the complaints. When San Clemente realized that their initial complaint was ill–advised and lacked proper legal foundation, the city quickly began settlement negotiations with Sovereign Health and issued construction permits to Vedanta that it had unlawfully withheld. Unfortunately, these decisions by the City Council drew the ire of a well-funded, local citizens group, Take Action San Clemente. Under political pressure from wealthy constituents, the city not only dragged its feet in settlement negotiations, but it also stepped up the harassment of Sovereign Health, its staff and most disgracefully its mental health patients. The City Council became more emboldened in April of 2016, when it was misreported by local media that the city of Costa Mesa had prevailed in a similar legal action with another treatment provider. But in reality, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the City to immediately cease and desist all enforcement of its unlawful ordinance targeting sober living homes.
After the Costa Mesa decision, San Clemente decided the time was right to increase its harassment of Sovereign and the mental health patients being treated in San Clemente. It did so by threatening landlords and others doing business with Sovereign with “permitting problems” with the city and posting cease and desist letters on properties where Sovereign mental health patients would find them. In August of this year, Sovereign employees were overtly threatened by a group of San Clemente residents, who had illegally entered a Sovereign property and disparaged Sovereign Health as an “evil company.” When the employees called the local police for protection, instead of making arrests, the officer asked the terrified employees: “Do you know who you’re working for?” The implication was clear. Local law enforcement was not going to do their job. Instead they had been coopted into the pattern of corruption and discrimination by the city.
The outrageous conduct of city government officials, a limited number of San Clemente residents, and the complicity of local law enforcement evokes frightening parallels and comparisons to the shameful era of racial discrimination in the United States during the 1950’s and 1960’s.
In the face of this continued discrimination and illegal harassment, Sovereign Health amended its federal court lawsuit to seek protection for the vulnerable mental health patients and veterans being treated in San Clemente. In response, San Clemente retaliated and amended its original state court complaint to include additional trumped up charges based on the city’s new ordinances, which are clearly in violation of both the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act.
Sadly, opposition by municipalities to the operation of behavioral health treatment centers is nothing new and is part of the social stigma surrounding mental health disorders. The behavioral health community’s mission is to not only provide treatment to the patients who need it, but to also shine a light on the stigma these patients face every single day. It’s especially tragic at a time when the United States is in the midst of dealing with epidemic levels of mental health and substance use disorders. Sovereign Health hopes that San Clemente’s city leadership will realize that not only is their complaint a mistake – their city actually needs more treatment resources to deal with the current epidemic of mental health and substance use disorders in their community.
Patients seek the services of Sovereign Health to receive treatment for mental health issues including trauma, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Sovereign also offers treatment for cognitive deficits and eating disorders. The patient population includes male and female patients covering a broad range of ages, from adolescents to adults and senior citizens. Sovereign Health operates nine treatment facilities in five states: California, Arizona, Florida, Texas and Utah. Each facility is fully licensed in accordance with the regulations of the state where the facility is located. Sovereign facilities have been awarded Gold Seal accreditation by the Joint Commission, the highest level of accreditation available in the behavioral health field.
About Sovereign Health
Sovereign Health’s mission is to provide a broad spectrum of high-quality behavioral health treatment services for adults and adolescents, including support services for family members. One factor that differentiates Sovereign from other treatment providers has been the company’s ability to offer separate mental health and addiction or dual diagnosis treatment programs at its facilities. For more information, visit www.sovhealth.com.
Wendy Allen, Public Relations Manager: 866-948-9688
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