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Illinois Steps Backward in Care for People with Disabilities

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As I indicated in my background article on the ADA Restoration Act of 2007, Illinois seems to be violating the rights of people with disabilities.

In a letter to the Daily Southtown, a Chicago suburban newspaper, dated April 14, 2006, 13th District Cook County Commissioner, Larry Suffredin made some interesting points about the pending closure of "Tinley Park Mental Health Center and sale of the underlying land at an estimated $30 million. He would like to know where the mentally ill who currently utilize the Tinley Park facility will be cared for after the closure. He points out that the State’s plan to use community hospitals at the State’s expense apparently has few takers and worries that the County may end up having to foot the bill. He says that "mental health care advocates have expressed concerns the money generated by the sale of the Tinley Park center-estimated at $30 million- may not be put back in full into care for the mentally ill. The state has indicated its plan to address mental illness is through outpatient support and crises services complemented by local hospitals."

He goes on to say, "one of the concerns we’ve had over the proposal to close Tinley Park center is that without firm alternatives provided by the state, much of the responsibility for public mental health care would fall to county governments , which are already overburdened. We join advocates in their concern that some patients will fall through the cracks and become more ill. Some will eventually wind up in prison, still not receiving adequate care. Again we implore the state to find firm solutions to these problems. No amount of money generated by the sale of the mental health center can justify society ignoring the needs of the mentally ill."

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What he doesn’t point out, and may not have known, is that in the past the State has utilized large nursing homes as "community placements" when they closed other State institutions for the Mentally Ill. Residents of Illinois nursing homes have charged that they and many others with mental illnesses are "needlessly segregated and inappropriately warehoused" in violation of federal laws including the Americans with Disabilities Act [ADA]. They asked a Federal District Court in Chicago to order state agencies to develop suitable community-living alternatives for them.

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The request came in Williams v. Blagovich, filed in August 2005 by two individuals forced into nursing homes in the Chicago area. The amended complaint filed April 26,2006 asks the court to grant class-action status to obtain relief for adults who are unnecessarily confined in for-profit nursing homes classified by state officials as "institutions for mental diseases"[IMDs]. More than 5,000 people are housed in such facilities in Illinois.

"More than two decades ago, the state closed large public institutions saying it would provide better care in the community for people with mental illnesses," said Benjamin Wolf, Associate legal director for the ACLU of Illinois, one of five legal organizations representing the plaintiffs. But today, people with mental illnesses are forced to live in private institutions because no Governor, no Department, no general Assembly has kept that promise."

The plaintiffs cite the 1999 Olmstead decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, which requires states to serve people with disabilities in "the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs." When the ADA was enacted in 1990, Congress identified the segregation of people with disabilities as a severe form of discrimination," says Barry Taylor, legal advocacy director at Equip for Equality, which is also representing the plaintiffs. "Yet 17 years later, Illinois continues to channel thousands of people with mental illnesses into large institutions while other states offer them the choice to live in the community."

 
 

 

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An OEN Editor. Born-03/20/1934, BA Pol. Sci.-U of Washington-1956, MBA-Seattle U-1970, Boeing-Program Control-1957-1971, State of Oregon-Mental Health Division-Deputy Admistrator-1971-1979, llinois Association of Community MH (more...)
 

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