State officials will begin drawing up plans to move 3,000 people with developmental and intellectual disabilities into community-based housing of their choice, as directed under a federal settlement approved Wednesday that allows for a six-year timetable.
The governor's office praised the settlement, which will expand services to new residents on a 21,000-member waiting list — but officials offered no answers on how they expect to pay additional costs during Illinois' fiscal crunch.
"The final cost will be determined by how many people elect community-based care," said Januari Smith, spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services and the Department of Human Services, the defendants in the lawsuit.
"The funds will now follow the individuals, and over the long term, community-based care is less expensive," said Smith, who said the average yearly cost of a community setting, such as an apartment or group home, is $32,000.
Funding was not the issue Wednesday, though, when U.S. District Judge James Holderman lauded the lawyers for reaching agreement, saying the consent decree holds "great significance" and was the result of fierce negotiation.
"I firmly believe that the state of Illinois, the citizens, have been well served by these efforts," Holderman said, after hearing from two parents who support the settlement.
The goal is to bring Illinois into compliance with the 1990 federal Americans with Disabilities Act, which requires that people with disabilities be allowed to live in the "most integrated setting" within their communities.
Stanley Ligas, 43, who filed the lawsuit against the state in 2005, will be allowed to move within 60 days into a home of his choice, under the consent decree. In the past, the state has been willing to pay only for Ligas to remain at a 96-bed facility, Sheltered Village in Woodstock, denying his requests to move to a smaller group home.
"I am so happy today," said Ligas, who has Down syndrome, after Wednesday's hearing. "My family too."
The state also must quickly move four other plaintiffs in the case, including David Cicarelli, 37, who lives at Riverside Foundation in Lincolnshire. He and Ligas hope to become roommates, he said.
Under the settlement, the state has 180 days to complete a broader transition plan for nonplaintiffs who currently live at home or in private, larger facilities.
"This agreement will allow adults with developmental disabilities to have the freedom of choice in where they want to live and receive services — whether that be at home, in a smaller community setting or in a larger residential facility," the Illinois attorney general's office said in a prepared statement.
The governor's office called the settlement a "step in the right direction."
State officials said they believe 500 to 1,000 people will immediately request services, but they expect that number to grow as families learn about the settlement.
Residents of larger private institutions, defined as facilities with nine or more residents, will not be forced to move if they are pleased with their setting — a key part of the settlement that helped it gain approval.
A court-appointed monitor will oversee the state's compliance with the consent decree, according to the court document.
"We are at the finish line of this chapter," said John Grossbart, lead attorney for the plaintiffs and a partner at the Chicago firm SNR Denton, which handled the case for free, alongside Equip for Equality, an advocacy group. "We have always said that this is a civil rights victory."
Just two years ago, the lawyers reached an impasse when hundreds of people turned out to oppose an earlier attempt at settlement. Dozens told the court they were afraid that family members would be forced to move out of large residential facilities, which they preferred.
In 2009, about 38 percent of the 23,730 Illinois adults with developmental disabilities receiving long-term care lived in settings of six or fewer people, according to the State of the States in Developmental Disabilities 2011 report by the University of Colorado. That is considerably lower than the national average of 75 percent, according to the report.
According to the Arc of Illinois, the annual per-person costs for residential settings range from an average of $55,000 for a group home to $192,000 for state-operated institutions.
Friday, June 17, 2011
Chicago Tribune. In the picture, friends David Cicarelli, left, and Stanley Ligas were among several plaintiffs in the case that fought to allow people with developmental and intellectual disabilities to choose their community-based housing.
Posted by BA Haller at 9:40 PM