A Huge Step Forward for People with Mental Illness

Historic agreement reached to transition Illinois residents unnecessarily housed in large, impersonal nursing homes

Last week was a good week for people with mental illness in Illinois. On Thursday, a federal judge granted preliminary approval for an historic agreement between the State of Illinois and thousands of people with psychiatric disabilities represented by a number of advocacy groups, including Access Living, and a private law firm - led, in this case, by the ACLU of Illinois - that will give thousands of people with mental illness an opportunity, if they choose, to move out of large, private nursing homes and into community-based settings. This agreement marks a sea change in Illinois state policy - which for far too long has relied on troubled, sometimes dangerous nursing homes to serve people with mental illness.

The next step in the process is a fairness hearing, scheduled for September, after which the judge may grant final approval and begin the process of changing Illinois' outmoded policy.

Under the agreement, more than four thousand people with mental illness who are housed in large nursing homes known as Institutions for Mental Diseases (IMDs) will receive an individualized, independent evaluation and offered the opportunity to live in a community-based setting with appropriate services. Remarkably, because of the high costs of the institutions and rules governing federal Medicaid reimbursements, the State of Illinois actually stands to save tens of millions of dollars over the next few years as more and more people with mental illness transfer from IMDs to community-based settings.

Most important, experts in serving those with mental illness report that most of the people living in IMDs are capable of living more independently, and that they actually develop more life skills and more independence outside of an institution such as an IMD.