CHICAGO (AP) — A settlement has been reached in the last of a trio of class-action lawsuits involving the rights of disabled Illinois residents living in large institutions, meaning thousands of people could get help moving from Cook County nursing
CHICAGO (AP) — A settlement has been reached in the last of a trio of class-action lawsuits involving the rights of disabled Illinois residents living in large institutions, meaning thousands of people could get help moving from Cook County nursing homes to houses and apartments.
The agreement, filed Monday evening in federal court in Chicago, strikes a blow against what advocates call the "warehousing" of people with disabilities in nursing homes. An estimated 20,000 Medicaid-eligible people with disabilities living in Cook County nursing homes could ultimately be affected — and more throughout the state if Illinois officials use the Cook County plan as a model.
The settlement is expected to be presented to a judge for approval Tuesday.
In the deal’s first phase, the state would spend $10 million for housing assistance to help at least 1,100 Cook County nursing home residents move. More people would be helped in the second phase of the agreement.
The plan would resolve a 2007 lawsuit filed by Access Living, an advocacy group for the disabled, and other groups. Their lawsuit claimed that Illinois violates the civil rights of Medicaid-eligible people with disabilities living in nursing homes in Cook County by not giving them alternatives such as supportive housing.
Similar agreements have been approved in two other Illinois cases involving housing for mentally ill and disabled adults.
Advocates for the disabled said Illinois’ long practice of supporting institutional care and underfunding alternatives like supportive housing violates the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Olmstead decision. In 1999, the Supreme Court ruled in Olmstead that unjustified institutionalization of people with disabilities was illegal discrimination.
The Olmstead decision gave advocates hope that "Illinois, one of the most institutionalized states in the country, would immediately start efforts to reform, and we were certainly wrong about that," said Marca Bristo, Access Living President and CEO. Advocates resorted to lawsuits when other efforts failed, Bristo said.
"We’re extremely happy that we have the state’s ear finally," Bristo said.
Lenil Colbert, 39, a named plaintiff in the case, had a stroke in 2005 that left him partially paralyzed. The former delivery driver lived with his mother for a while, then was transferred from a hospital to an Oak Park nursing home in 2006. He had three roommates, a curfew and little privacy, although the help he received in the nursing home could have been provided in the community, according to the lawsuit.
Since the case was filed, Colbert has moved out of the nursing home and now lives in his own apartment.
"I can eat when I want, come and go when I need to," he said. A personal assistant helps him about five hours a day, he said.
Community housing will be cheaper for Illinois than nursing homes, said the plaintiff’s lead counsel, Steve Libowsky of SNR Denton, which took the case without a fee. The average annual cost per person for housing people in nursing homes is $19,220 compared to $16,900 for supported housing in apartments, Libowsky said.
Capria Miller, 31, who is paralyzed from a fall and uses a power wheelchair, wants to move out of the Chicago nursing facility where she lives. Her three young children live with her mother in Chicago. She said she hopes the settlement will help her get the support she needs to live in the community.
"I don’t want to be raising my children from a nursing home," Miller said. "I want to make sure they’re doing their chores and their homework, all the things children are supposed to do."
The lawsuit is one of three similar complaints involving Medicaid-funded housing in Illinois and it’s the last to reach a settlement. Earlier this year, a judge approved a similar deal affecting 6,000 disabled adults living in privately operated care facilities and 3,000 adults living at home with aging parents and other family members. Last year, in the first of the three cases to be settled, a judge approved an agreement involving 4,500 people with mental illness who live in specialized nursing homes.
The case is Colbert v. Quinn.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.