Governor Quinn’s Rebalancing Initiative of 2012 led ILADD to a multi-year, multi-million dollar lawsuit against the state.
In January 2012, Governor Quinn announced his Rebalancing Initiative, which was designed to close four of the then eight SODCs in two and a half years and move 600 residents to the community. The two SODCs initially targeted were Jacksonville Developmental Center (JDC) in Jacksonville and Mabley Developmental Center in Dixon. Families from those centers were devastated by the announcement. In an incredible grass roots initiative, the families pulled together their stories of their children with desperate needs who had tried less supportive settings repeatedly and failed, sometimes with life threatening experiences. The stories told how their current SODC placements had saved them. They bravely presented their testimony in hearings before the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA). By all assessments measuring reasons for closure and viable alternatives, neither JDC nor Mabley should have been closed. Despite the evidence, the Rebalancing Initiative marched on.
The state hired an organization called CRA (Community Resource Associates) and adopted CRA’s radical transition plan as its own.
- The plan called for the movement of all of the residents of the targeted SODCs to homes with 4 or fewer beds, preferably 1-2
- Services were to be unbundled, meaning that housing, services, supports, employment, were not to be provided by one single agency or in one location.
- CRA would choose providers who not only embraced their vision, but actually signed a pledge. They ranked providers on a 5 Star scale, the highest score going to providers who had a greatest hands-off approach to providing and overseeing services, but rather, allowed the community at large to assume responsibility for planning and executing services and events.
- CRA announced a redefinition of It was not about paper compliance, they said, or policies and procedures. Rather, “Success is what we see when we see it.”
It was not only a dangerous plan, but a potentially deadly one.
Jacksonville Developmental Center was the first target. ILADD attended many JDC parent meetings, informing families of their rights to refuse such dangerous plans for their wards. We offered a template that JDC guardians could sign and submit to the state, refusing CRA placement because under federal Medicaid law as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act, eligible individuals had a legally enforceable right to ICF level of care. The first group to be transitioned to the community were wards of the state. Several incidents involving the police, numerous injuries and hospitalizations, including psychiatric hospitalizations were reported to the Jacksonville Closure Advisory Committee. However, by the time JDC families brought suit, it was too late.
The Department had escalated the removal of residents. Despite claims that the state’s transition plan was “person-centered,” sixty residents were moved out in a three week period between mid October and early November. Then, in the final week of that month, Illinois moved the thirty remaining residents to temporary settings at other SODCs. In November 2012, Illinois closed JDC.
At some point, the Governor’s office changed their target away from Mabley and toward Murray Developmental Center in Centralia, and made the announcement for its closure. So, in February 2013, Murray families and ILADD brought suit against the state alleging that the plan they were implementing violated federal law. During the three-year legal battle, we won a temporary restraining order (TRO) preventing Illinois from moving any person out of the facility without written permission of the guardian, pending determination of whether a preliminary injunction should be ordered. The first residents to leave Murray for community placement were predominantly wards of the state. Due to the fact that a state court judge in Clinton County was compelled to respond to numerous incidents involving these individuals, including police encounters, injuries, and substandard housing and care, he stripped the Office of State Guardian from placement decision authority and appointed an independent guardian ad litem.
In July 2014, in reliance upon the state’s testimony that it was following the law, District Judge Marvin Aspen denied plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction and declared that the closure process at Murray could continue, but at the same time, the judge categorically affirmed certain vital rights of residents and guardians regarding the process of assessment and the choice of placement. The ruling was based on the judge’s acceptance of the state’s witnesses’ sworn testimony that the state would honor guardian choice as to the placement of their loved ones.
Implicit in the judge’s decision is the affirmation that guardians have the right to choose an appropriate placement for their loved ones, and that guardians may reject a community placement like a Community Integrated Living Arrangement (CILA), of the sort that the state wished all SODC residents to accept (that is, a community placement in a setting of four or fewer beds). The appellate court upheld the District Court ruling.
By the time the appellate court had ruled, Illinois had already halted all SODC closure activity. Although the lawsuit is dismissed, we have an excellent affirmation in federal court regarding Illinois’ obligation to offer residents a full range of placement choices. Illinois may not simply transfer residents, ignoring guardian wishes, to community placements that are often ill-equipped to meet the particular needs of our loved ones.
In summary, currently:
- there is no SODC closure list;
- three of the four Centers that Governor Quinn had targeted for closure are still open;
- all Illinois officials who testified in favor of the “one-size-fits-all” approach to moving SODC residents to community settings lost their positions after the
- hundreds of people with the most severe developmental disabilities who would have been “transitioned” are still safe in their SODC
Dismissal means that this case cannot be reopened. However, should the state institute another closure plan and that plan does not comply with federal law allowing for guardian choice of appropriate settings, a new lawsuit may be brought.
More recent threats to SODC residents involve repeated attempts to chip away at family and private guardian rights and to add burdens to obtaining guardianship. It is important to remember that family and private guardians are considered -by law- the guardians of first choice while the State is considered the guardian of last resort!
Advocacy is a never ending story. The survival of our SODCs and the full array of service options in Illinois’ Developmental Disability Service Delivery System requires our solidarity and diligence. Thanks to ILADD and each of its members and friends, we have had a critical role in its history as we will in its future.