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Access Living, ACLU win major victory on rights of disabled people... Landmark consent decree expands opportunities for nursing home residents with disabilities

On December 20, 2011, in the U.S. District Court in Chicago, Judge Joan Lefkow 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.

LANDMARK CONSENT DECREE EXPANDS OPPORTUNITIES FOR NURSING HOME RESIDENTS WITH DISABILITIES

(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 caseColbert 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 www.accessliving.org. For more information, contact Gary Arnold at 312-640-2199 (voice), 773-425-2536 (cell), garnold@accessliving.org .

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, www.accessliving.org

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, www.snrdenton.com.

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, www.equipforequality.org.

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, www.aclu-il.org.

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