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Arizona's Behavioral Health History

Arnold vs Sarn

1980: The Legislature passes a law requiring certain community services for people diagnosed with a serious mental illness.

1981: Phoenix attorney Chick Arnold, then Maricopa County Public Fiduciary, files a lawsuit in Maricopa County Superior Court on behalf of a client. He argues the state is breaking the law because his client was not getting the services he was entitled to. In March, the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest files a class action lawsuit, which broadens the case to include all adults with a serious mental illness in Maricopa County.

1986: The Maricopa County Superior Court rules that the state is violating the law. The state appeals. The Legislature creates the Division of Behavioral Health Services within the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS).

1989: The Arizona Supreme Court upholds the lower court. The trial judge orders ADHS to provide a “unified system of care.” The state appeals again.

1991: The Supreme Court again rules against the state. The Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS) adds mental health treatment to Medicaid services. The state plaintiffs agree on a “blueprint” for services.

1995 – 1998: There are 11,000 members in the “class” in 1995. The state and plaintiffs work on meeting the “blueprint” requirements. More services and requirements are added through a “supplemental agreement.”

1999: A study estimates that it will cost $317 million a year for a comprehensive mental health system in Maricopa County. Current funding is $88 million.

2004: An updated study puts the new price tag at $570 million for SMI services, medications, and housing. The class now includes 15,000 people.

2006: There are 19,000 people in the class. Funding for Maricopa County is $365 million. About half the funding goes to 25 clinics.

May 2012: Gov. Jan Brewer, Chick 
Arnold and others announce a proposed agreement in the case. Over the next two years, they will work out the terms.

January 2014: More that 30 years after it was filed, the state and plaintiffs reach an agreement to end the lawsuit. The deal requires that housing, employment support, peer support and Assertive Community Treatment teams be expanded. It also requires that the services meet certain standards and that they’re reviewed by an outside group.

June 2016: Deadline for terms of the services capacity expansion to be met.