St. Elizabeth's Hospital lawsuit settled after more than 40 years

The original lawsuit, filed by William Dixon, was established in 1974.

WASHINGTON (AP/ABC7) - After 37 years of litigation, a judge has given final approval to a settlement in a long-running lawsuit over the way the District of Columbia provides health care to mentally ill residents.

U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Hogan gave approval at a hearing Thursday morning in U.S. District Court. The settlement ends court oversight of the District's public mental health system.

"This settlement affirms the significant progress we have made in building a high-quality, community-based mental health system," D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray said.

The class-action lawsuit was filed in 1974 and is known as the "Dixon case" after one of the plaintiffs, William Dixon. It led to changes in the way the city cares for mentally ill residents.

"We have regained control over critical mental-health services and can hold the District government accountable for effective service delivery," Gray said.

As part of the settlement, D.C. is committing to add 300 affordable housing units for city residents suffering from mental illness. The city will also expand job readiness and preparation, along with increasing treatment services with good track records.

Thirty years ago, most patients were hospitalized at Saint Elizabeths, the city-run mental health hospital. The lawsuit was filed by patients at the hospital who said that at the time, mental health treatment in the community was not available to those who did not require committal. Now, more than 20,000 D.C. residents remain in the community while receiving treatment at 37 providers.

Fewer than 300 patients now require residential treatment at the the hospital.

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