Colbert v. Quinn: Landmark Consent Decree expands opportunities for nursing home residents with disabilities

Lenil Colbert speaking in August about the importance of indepence and choice for people with disabilities
Today (December 20), in Federal Court, the Court approved a landmark agreement that 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.”

Below is a news release issued by the parties in the case that represent the Class.


(CHICAGO, December 20, 2011) – A groundbreaking Consent Decree approved today in Federal Court will end the forced, long-standing and unnecessary segregation of people with physical disabilities and mental illness living in nursing homes. The agreement in Colbert v. Quinn, signed today by Judge Lefkow, for the first time will give Medicaid-eligible nursing home residents in Cook County 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 Lenil 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.”

Today’s approval by the Court is the latest development in the case Colbert v. Quinn, 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 two and a half 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 ACLU of Illinois, co-counsel for the class.

Access Living and SNR Denton, which is providing representation on a pro bono basis, are serving as lead counsel on the case. The plaintiffs are also being represented by attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois and Equip for Equality, and by the Law Offices of Stephen F. Gold. Colbert v. Quinn is case number 07 C 4737. For documents related to the settlement, visit For more information, contact Gary Arnold at 312-640-2199 (voice), 773-425-2536 (cell), .

About Access Living
Established in 1980, Access Living is a non-profit, Chicago-based disability rights and service organization that provides individualized, peer-based services for people with disabilities. With a strong influence in public policy and social reform, Access Living is a leading force in the community. Committed to challenging stereotypes, protecting civil rights and breaking institutional and community barriers, Access Living is a nationally recognized change agent at the forefront of the disability rights movement. For more information,

About SNR Denton
SNR Denton is a client-focused international legal practice delivering quality and value. SNR Denton serves clients in key business and financial centers from more than 60 locations in 43 countries, through offices, associate firms and special alliances across the US, the UK, Europe, the Middle East, Russia and the CIS, Asia Pacific and Africa, making it a top 25 legal services provider by lawyers and professionals worldwide. Joining the complementary top tier practices of its founding firms -- Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal LLP and Denton Wilde Sapte LLP -- SNR Denton offers business, government and institutional clients premier service and a disciplined focus to meet evolving needs in eight key industry sectors: Energy, Transport and Infrastructure; Financial Institutions and Funds; Government; Health and Life Sciences; Insurance; Manufacturing; Real Estate, Retail and Hotels; and Technology, Media and Telecommunications. For more information and legal notices,

About Equip for Equality
Designated in 1985 as the federally funded Protection and Advocacy System for people with disabilities in Illinois, Equip for Equality’s mission is to advance the human and civil rights of people with all types of disabilities in Illinois. Equip for Equality provides self-advocacy assistance, legal services, and disability rights education while also engaging in public policy and legislative advocacy and conducting abuse investigations and other oversight activities. For more information,

About the ACLU of Illinois
The American Civil Liberties Union is a non-partisan, non-profit membership organization dedicated to protecting and extending freedom, liberty and equality to all in the United States. The work of the ACLU is based upon, but not limited to, protecting the liberties and freedoms guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, especially the Bill of Rights. With a membership of more than 500,000 nationwide - more than 23,000 in Illinois - the ACLU accomplishes its goals through litigating, lobbying and educating the public on a broad array of issues affecting our liberties. For more information,

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Colbert Information
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  1. Gene Hyman Dear Sir/Madam,
    Please send information on transitional living to me via my email address:
    or call me at the number listed below.
    I would specifically be interested in learning more about exiting an IMD and transitioning into the community with support.
    Please include the living arrangement particulars and their locations in the metro Chicago land area.
    Thank you.
    Gene Hyman
    Skokie, Illinois
    (847) 673-0263
  3. Shannon Congrats and kudos to the attys. Please look at what is happening in the Cook County guardianship cases. disabled wards large estates are placed into OBRAs to qualify the wards for Medicaid. Then they are placed into favored state homes homes, and the estates are depleted with legal and attys fees. It seems criminal and also in violation of ADA. See www dot probateabusemanual dot com and probatesharks dot com. The disabled wards need honest legal assistance!
  4. Shannon Congrats ! I hope this brings better lives to many. There is also an issue in the Cook County Probate Guardianship cases. Families are being removed as guardians, and the court appoints private court-favored guardians to the disabled. THen, the wards' estates are placed into OBRA Special Needs Pooled Trusts. These wards's estates are large, and in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. They do not need Medicaid. Once their estate is placed into the OBRA, they have been forced into favored state-run nursing homes, and the estates are then depleted on legal fees and guardian fees associated with the guardian cases.

    The wards need an atty who would be willing to do a class action suit for them.

    See more at probateabusemanual.blogspot dot com, or at probatesharks dot com.

    Help is needed for these disabled elderly wards.
  5. S.C. Thank you Judge Joan Lefkow! And Lenil Colbert, thank you also! Now, please get me out of here. I'm ready to be on my own. Season's Greetings and may we all have a healthy 2012.
  6. S.C. Almost forgot... Thanks a lot to the legal team. You're the best!
  7. Brenda Myles 1/16/12 Hello, Please contact me regarding getting info. and services for my 49 y/o brother and cousin who have dx. of Schizophrenia and they currently reside in Nursing Homes in Illinois. I have been trying to get them home, but I work as a RN and have limited resources available to assist them. They are in nursing homes because they were homeless years ago, and they are still there, getting worser!! Please call me at your earliest convenience at (773) 512-1638 with info. or to make an appointment. I have participated in rallies,worked with clients who have utilized your services and look forward to working with you further to assist my relatives in improving their lives. Thank you Brenda Myles
  8. Sally This is wonderful news for the thousands of nursing home residents of Illinois that do not really need to be in a nursing home.

    I wonder if a doctor has to sign that the person is competent to leave and live on their own. If so, what is the incentive for a doctor or nursing home to allow this? The incentive to keep the person is FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS A MONTH.
    just saying...

    I also wonder how long it will take for the state to implement this law and provide housing or vouchers or PAs.
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