Proposed legislation threatens progress made to support independence, integration of people with disabilities

Chicago – Access Living opposes SB 45, a place holder for a plan that threatens progress Illinois has made in offering people with mental illness integrated, community based supports. “Institutions for Mental Diseases(IMD),” nursing homes whose residents are largely people with mental illness, are facing reductions in the number of residents as a result of the state's settlement of the Williams v. Quinn case, which helps persons with mental illness move from IMDs to their own homes and apartments. Bowing to pressure from owners of IMDs, SB 45 will preserve, repurpose, and rename these facilities so that they can avoid the logical consequences of the state's rebalancing efforts. The plan considered by the State not only goes against the spirit of the Williams settlement and Governor Quinn's commitment to create more community–based options for people with disabilities, but the cost also would be significantly higher than community care.

“Permitting, and in fact facilitating the IMDs to become multipurpose facilities in order for them to maintain their market share of the state's scarce resources is unprincipled and unwise,” said Patti Werner, Access Living's managing attorney for community integration and one of the lawyers on the Williams case. Under the Williams implementation plan, the number of IMD facilities would likely decline. Rather than allow that process to unfold, under SB 45 the state is preserving resources to expand the institutional model. The state should be investing its resources into the community mental health service system whose funding has been slashed repeatedly in recent years, rather than funding institutional settings.

Mental health experts agree that segregating people with disabilities in institutions is not beneficial and can be harmful. “There is nothing to suggest that calling the IMDs by another name will change this course” said Werner. The 2010 Williams settlement provided that the approximately 4,000 IMD residents with mental illness in Illinois would have the opportunity to move to community settings and receive community–based services, rather than languish in institutions. The Williams' litigation was led by the ACLU of Illinois, in collaboration with Access Living, Equip for Equality, the Bazelon Center and the Chicago office of Kirkland and Ellis. These groups helped make possible the success being achieved under the agreement. So far, more than 400 people have made the move to community based living, where they receive assistance with employment, cooking, health care and other needs.

Gary Arnold
Public Affairs Manager