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State settles on nursing home alternatives

The settlement Tuesday of the third of three lawsuits charging that Illinois violated the rights of people with disabilities by forcing them into nursing homes is a big step, especially given the state’s resistance on the issue over much of the past decade.  But much remains to be done, said a disability rights advocate.

The agreement to establish a $10 million fund to help nursing home residents get their own housing is “a big breakthrough,” said Tom Wilson of Access Living, one of the groups that sued the state.

The groups charged that the state violated the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1999 Olmstead decision which found that state policies which force people with disabilities to live in nursing homes violate their civil rights.

In addition to pressure from the lawsuits, “we finally have a governor who gets this,” Wilson said.  Former Governor Rod Blagojevich was the target of protests when he cut funding for community-based programs and reopened a state institution.

Moving forward, the state needs to develop a system to help people who’ve been hospitalized transition to their own homes, Wilson said.

Patients can lose their homes during long-term hospitalizations, and patients who are discharged to nursing homes for short-term physical rehab can lose their financial independence, he said.

Other states have protections against nursing homes forcing residents to sign over their Social Security or SSI checks, Wilson said.

Illinois has the highest reliance on nursing homes for long-term care – and the least support for small integrated settings — of any state in the nation.  Nursing home care is much more expensive than community-based care – but the nursing home industry is a major contributor to campaign funds.

Illinois also needs to join other states that are phasing out state-run institutions, Wilson said.  “That model is flawed,” Wilson said.  “It’s very paternatlistic.  It doesn’t liberate people.”

Since 1998, Access Living’s deinstutionalization program has helped hundreds of people move out of nursing homes.  (In a new article — it’s part four of a series on Disability in Chicago for the Chicago Community Trust’s Local Reporting Initiative — the Neighborhood Writing Alliance tells the story of one man who Access Living recently helped move into his own home.)

Related Newstips:

Life outside the nursing home (on Access Living’s deinstitutionalization program)

Olmstead at Ten: State still favors costly nursing homes

ADAPT to target Blagojevich

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Category: disability

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