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Judge approves agreement to better serve individuals with mental illness

October 6, 2010
by Press Release
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Chicago — Thousands of persons with mental illnesses in Illinois took a significant, critical step toward independence and dignity after a federal judge today gave final approval to an historic agreement worked out by the State of Illinois and a coalition of legal services organizations. The agreement in Williams v. Quinn gained final approval from U.S. District Court Judge William Hart following a fairness hearing on September 7, 2010 that drew hundreds of interested class members and relatives to a Chicago courtroom. Once implemented, the agreement paves the way for individuals with mental illnesses to move out of Illinois' outmoded, segregated nursing home system and receive the services they need in the community.

The approval begins a systemic process of giving approximately 4,300 persons with mental illnesses the choice to move out of large nursing homes known as "Institutions for Mental Diseases" (IMDs) and into community-based settings with the support they need to be successful. These large, impersonal IMDs are operated in a manner that allows individuals little opportunity for independent living and personal growth.

"Today is an important step along the path to independence and dignity for thousands of persons with mental illnesses in Illinois," said Benjamin Wolf, associate legal director for the ACLU of Illinois, one of five legal organizations representing the plaintiffs. "More important, it is a critical step in reforming an outdated system in Illinois. There simply is no rational, medical reason for forcing persons with mental illnesses to receive the treatment they need in a large, institutional setting living with hundreds of other people with mental illnesses. We do not require such living arrangements for other diseases - it is indefensible for those with mental illness."

"Today, Illinois joins the mainstream of states across the country moving away from the use of these large, cold institutions to treat those with mental illnesses," said Donna Welch, a partner with Kirkland & Ellis, LLP. "We look forward to working with the State to insure an effective, smooth implementation process for our clients."

Now that the court has approved the settlement, a specific implementation plan will be written to transition those persons with mental illnesses currently housed in IMDs to community-based settings. Trained professionals will be hired to evaluate eligible members of the class who reside in IMDs to determine: a.) if they are able to transition to permanent supportive housing and other community-based settings; and, b.) what additional services will be necessary for each individual as part of the transition process. An individualized plan for each person will be developed, implemented and tracked.

"This settlement offers new choices and new opportunities for a group of individuals who have been forced into large institutions for too long," said Barry Taylor, Legal Advocacy Director at Equip for Equality. "Perhaps most importantly, today the promise of the Americans with Disabilities Act is one step closer for people with mental illnesses in Illinois.”