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Ill. judge to OK disabilities lawsuit settlement

By 
SOPHIA TAREEN
Associated Press

CHICAGO (AP) – Thousands of adults with developmental disabilities in Illinois are a step closer to getting more housing options after a federal judge said Wednesday that he will approve a settlement in a long-running civil rights lawsuit.

The agreement settles claims that the state violates the civil rights of individuals with developmental disabilities by segregating them unnecessarily in large institutions. It says that Illinois cannot divert money from large private facilities to pay for community services and that residents happily living in the institutions can remain where they are. Residents staying in institutions also could choose to move to smaller homes and get support services.

“It has great significance to all the people of the state of Illinois,” U.S. District Judge James Holderman said in court after several families testified in support of the settlement. Approval was expected later Wednesday.

The lawsuit, filed in 2005, names the Illinois Department of Human Services and the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services. Among other things, the plaintiffs complained of limited options at larger institutions – those with nine or more beds – and about a lack of independence.

David Cicarelli, 37, is one of the plaintiffs. He has lived for more than a decade at Riverside Foundation in Lincolnshire with nearly 100 other residents. Cicarelli’s father, James Cicarelli, said his son has developmental delays and minor cerebral palsy.

“It’s not like a home at all,” David Cicarelli said. “I want to live in community housing, close to my parents.”

The settlement has been heralded as historic for Illinois, which has been ranked last in the nation by a federally funded report for helping people with developmental disabilities live more independently.

“Illinois has not kept pace with the rest of the country,” said attorney John Grossbart of SNR Denton, which helped with the case on behalf of the plaintiffs without a fee.

Holderman rejected a previous version of the agreement in 2009 after receiving 2,500 written objections.

Families were worried that the prior version would have forced their family members out of residential facilities.

The current agreement, submitted to the court in January, would give more housing choices to 6,000 adults who receive state aid and live in privately operated care facilities. Attorneys for the plaintiffs say hundreds have already expressed interest in moving.

Illinois’ Medicaid program also would be required to offer services to an additional 3,000 adults living at home with aging parents or other family members. The agreement sets a six-year timetable for Illinois to offer community-based housing to adults who want to move out of licensed facilities with nine beds or more. There are about 240 such facilities throughout Illinois.

The state also must maintain a waiting list of people who want community-based services but don’t currently live in institutions. Within six years, the state must provide services to 3,000 of those adults, including 1,000 during the first two years.

Several details need to be worked out after the judge signs the consent decree. State officials need to come up with an implementation plan and find a monitor to oversee it. The arrangement must have court approval.

Officials with state agencies did not immediately return calls seeking comment Wednesday.

The lawsuit is one of several similar complaints involving Medicaid-funded housing in Illinois. Last year, a judge approved a similar agreement involving people who are mentally ill and who live in specialized nursing homes.

News of the settlement Wednesday was embraced by those who have been waiting years for a resolution.

Cicarelli said he hopes to move out of Riverside Foundation by his birthday in September. His family members said they’re excited about his future.

“He’ll have his own room. He can have a pet,” his father, James Cicarelli, said. “His life will be as normal as can be given the situation.”

Sophia Tareen can be reached at twitter.com/sophiatareen

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