State officials and advocates have reached an agreement in a federal class action lawsuit that would allow people with developmental disabilities to move from nursing facilities into small group homes.
"This is monumental," said Barry Taylor, an attorney with Equip for Equality, a nonprofit watchdog that served as legal counsel for the plaintiffs.
Illinois facilities who want to move to community-based living arrangements — small group homes — would be able to do so. The filing was also signed by the state.
Although a judge must still approve the agreement, lawyers are cautiously optimistic. The filing comes after discussions with hundreds of disabled people who had protested earlier agreements. They argued that the "class" definition was too broad and could force people who prefer living in the nursing facilities to move. Scott Mendel, an attorney for residents at Chicago-based Misericordia, said some people want small community living arrangements while others prefer a larger environment.
"What we really think this decree does is it really does honor individual choice," Mendel said. He also said the agreement ensures that the facilities would not see their funding transferred to cover new individuals receiving services.
In the 2005 lawsuit, plaintiffs alleged that the state falls short of providing services to individuals in the most appropriate integrated setting, lawyers said. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that undue segregation is discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
"It's a civil rights issue," said Taylor, whose organization is representing plaintiffs along with the American Civil Liberties Union, SNR Denton and Access Living. "It's going to fundamentally change the opportunities for people with disabilities in Illinois."
David Cicarelli, diagnosed with moderate developmental disabilities and one of nine named plaintiffs, has tried for 14 years to move out of a facility in Lincolnshire housing about 100 people into a group home near his parents in Arlington Heights.
He said his current facility means little privacy, with a roommate and strict time schedules for meals. He wants more freedom to do things on his own, including a chance to work at Chuck E. Cheese's.
"It is frustrating, but I have been patient trying to get a place," said Cicarelli, 37. "It takes a long time."
The decree would also apply to the 3,000 disabled people living at home. The state would be required to develop a waiting list for people who want to live in group homes and draw up transitional plans for them as well.
The agreement doesn't apply to children with disabilities, such as those living at the Alden Village North nursing facility in Chicago, which has come under fire in recent months for a high number of deaths and violations. Taylor said class action suits must establish commonalties for class members, and including children might have made doing so difficult.