“I just want an opportunity to make my own choices about how I live,” said plaintiff Lenil Colbert, who currently resides in an Oak Park nursing facility. “In the nursing home, I have to eat when they tell me to. I have to go to bed when they say it's time and I can't visit my family and friends without permission.”
According to a database maintained by the federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, more than 31,000 people live in nursing homes in Cook County. In six of the ten largest nursing facilities, housing hundreds of people each, the majority of the residents are not elderly. Up to 60% of non–elderly nursing home residents, all of whom are people with disabilities, in Cook County, and nearly one–third of elderly residents, would prefer to receive long–term care services in their own homes, apartments, and communities instead of a nursing facility.
The plaintiffs are represented by three public interest agencies –– Access Living, Equip for Equality, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois ––, as well as Stephen F. Gold, a national disability rights lawyer based in Philadelphia, and the law firm Ross, Dixon & Bell, LLP, which is representing the plaintiffs and the class on a pro bono basis.
“The actions of the State result in the unnecessary segregation of persons who would benefit from life in the community,” said Max Lapertosa of Access Living. “It is time for Illinois to reverse its trend of segregation and fulfill the right of people with disabilities to live in communities of their choice.” Access Living was founded in 1980 as a community–based, non–profit, non–residential, cross–disability service and advocacy organization operated by and for people with disabilities.
The plaintiffs are asking the court to order Illinois officials to: ensure that nursing facility residents in Cook County are assessed for community long–term care services, both at admission and regularly thereafter; inform nursing facility residents of home– and community–based long–term care options and alternatives; and provide eligible nursing facility residents with long–term care services and supports in the community, rather than requiring individuals to submit to nursing home placement.
“Under federal law, nursing home residents have the right to receive long–term programs in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs,” said Ed Mullen of Ross, Dixon & Bell, LLP. “The plaintiffs who filed the complaint today, as well as many others, have had that right systemically denied.”
The individual plaintiffs named in the suit are Lenil Colbert, Constance Gray, Ernest Reeves, Kenya Lyles and Dwight Scott. All five of the plaintiffs reside in nursing facilities in Illinois, despite their desire to move out.
“This litigation was filed to force the state to do what it has failed to do voluntarily: comply with federal law and fulfill its obligation to its citizens with disabilities,” said Karen Ward of Equip for Equality, the federally–mandated protection and advocacy agency for people with disabilities in Illinois.
“Institutionalization in nursing facilities not only denies people their fundamental right to live in a setting of their choice, it takes away the opportunity to participate in the rights and responsibilities of American life,” said Benjamin Wolf, the associate legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois.
This is the third community integration class action filed against Illinois State officials by Access Living, the ACLU of Illinois and Equip for Equality. Ligas v. Maram was filed on behalf of people with developmental disabilities living in large, private, state–funded institutions. Williams v. Blagojevich was filed on behalf of people with mental illness living in large, private, state–funded institutions, where at least 50% of the residents have a primary diagnosis of mental illness.