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Federal consent decree opens housing

Fri, Feb 3, 2012

A landmark federal court agreement approved December 20 will offer .thousands of people with disabilities in nursing homes the opportunity to choose to live in their own apartments instead of in institutions. The agreement is the latest step in Colbert v. Quinn, a class action case originally filed in 2007 on behalf of people with disabilities living in Cook County nursing homes. Lenil Corbert, an original plaintiff in the case, after learning of the Court’s approval, said, “It feels great. Now I know there are other options for people.” The consent decree ends the forced, long-standing and unnecessary segregation of people with physical disabilities and mental illness living in nursing homes. For the first time, Medicaid-eligible nursing home residents in Cook County will have a meaningful choice about where they wish to live, affording them the opportunity to live in their own homes and participate in the community.

In Cook County, thousands of people with physical disabilities and mental illness are warehoused in nursing homes because, due to the state’s payment structure, they cannot get the services they need in the community. When the consent decree in Colbert v. Quinn is implemented, the State will provide housing assistance to nursing home residents who wish to transition into the community.

“In the nursing home, I lost the freedom to make basic decisions about my own life, like when to get up, what to eat, and who to room with,” said Colbert, a named plaintiff who lived in a nursing home at the time the original complaint was filed. “I think that everyone in a nursing home should have the option to move out.”

Historically, the biggest obstacle to Medicaid-eligible people with disabilities living in the community has been affordable housing.

“Final approval of the Colbert v. Quinn agreement signals a momentous day for nursing home residents with disabilities,” said Steve Libowsky of SNR Denton, the lead attorney for the class. “Because of the way services in Illinois are funded, thousands of people with disabilities are forced to live in nursing homes rather than houses or apartments of their choosing. As a result of this decree, Illinois will afford people with disabilities a real opportunity to live and participate in their communities and will no longer make a nursing home the only housing option.”

Colbert v. Quinn was originally filed in August 2007 on behalf of a class of nursing home residents with disabilities in Cook County. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act and the 1999 U.S. Supreme Court Olmstead decision, people with disabilities have the right to receive long-term care services in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs. The vast majority of people with disabilities who are receiving Medicaid have no meaningful alternative to living in a nursing home. “By providing housing assistance, Illinois is addressing the single greatest obstacle to Medicaid-eligible nursing home residents being able to return to the community,” said Steve Gold of the Law Offices of Stephen F. Gold, co-counsel for the class.
“Most of us prefer the comforts of our own homes or apartments, with all the headaches and happiness that can bring. People with disabilities are no different,” said Patti Werner, from Access Living, co-counsel for the class.

Under the decree, the State will provide housing and related assistance, including personal assistants, to at least 1,100 Cook County nursing home residents with disabilities during the first 2 1/2 year period of the agreement – the first phase. “This decree is a huge step forward for thousands of people who want to live and participate in communities of their choice,” said Marca Bristo, president & CEO of Access Living. “We commend the Court for approving the decree because it recognizes the right of people with disabilities to choose where to live. We look forward to partnering with the State to implement the agreement.”
After the first phase, the State will continue to provide housing and related assistance to other Cook County nursing home residents with disabilities so they can move into the community. During the second phase, the state will implement a comprehensive plan to move Medicaid-recipients living in nursing homes who desire to move into the community in accordance with a plan based on data collected during the first phase.

The State will spend no more, in the aggregate, than what it is now paying to serve people with disabilities living in nursing homes. “Historically, nursing home costs have far exceeded the costs of community-based services,” said Karen Ward of Equip for Equality, co-counsel for the class. “This decree not only offers people with disabilities the choice to live independently, we believe it will also provide a significant cost savings to the State.”

Colbert v. Quinn is the third in a trio of class actions brought against the State on behalf of people with all types of disabilities living in institutions to assure them the choice to live in the community. The other two cases, Ligas v. Hamos and Williams v. Quinn, reached similar settlement agreements and have also been approved by the Court. “Court approval of the Colbert agreement brings us closer to our goal of ending the involuntary segregation and isolation of people with all types of disabilities in nursing homes and institutions across Cook County and Illinois,” said Benjamin Wolf of the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, co-counsel for the class.

Prepared Materials Access Living

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