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DES MOINES, Iowa — Several disability rights groups announced a lawsuit against Iowa’s Department of Health and Human Services Friday for allegedly denying needed mental health care for children in crisis.

The class action lawsuit hinges on the testimony of three teenagers who all say they were institutionalized because of the state’s failure to provide mental health care recommended by their providers.

“For years, Iowa officials have publicly acknowledged the inadequacy of the State’s mental health system for children. Yet, despite repeated calls to address these concerns, necessary services remain unavailable,” the lawsuit said.

Disability Rights Iowa is among the groups behind the lawsuit, which claims the state violated the teenagers’ Medicaid and Americans with Disabilities Act rights.

“The needs of our children with serious emotional disturbances would not allow us to wait any longer,” said Disability Rights Iowa executive director Catherine Johnson. “These children have suffered for far too long, and it’s time to come together and address how we’re going to solve this problem in Iowa.”

The first statement in the lawsuit is from a 13-year-old only identified as “C.A.” The teenager claims they attempted suicide five times this spring and ended up in the emergency room or a residential facility each time. C.A. claims their provider recommended intensive home care, but the care was never arranged upon their discharges from the hospital. C.A. says they were institutionalized in a psychiatric facility in June, where they still reside.

The second statement, from a 15-year-old identified as ”C.B,” claims they sought home-based mental health services on the advice of their provider in 2015, but did not receive any care until 2020. C.B. says that care was limited skills training, and that they ended up institutionalized in August 2021.

The third statement, from a 14-year-old identified as “C.C,” also claims their provider recommended in-home care, only to receive limited skills training. They further claim the skills training itself became impossible to find since this summer.

“We want our plaintiffs to receive what they are legally entitled to and what the doctors have asserted is medically necessary for them,” Johnson said.

Other organizations joining Disability Rights Iowa on the lawsuit include Children’s Rights, Ropes and Gray, and the National Health Law Program.

The Department of Health and Human Services declined to comment since it is an active lawsuit.