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Advancing the Human & Civil Rights of People with Disabilities in Illinois


Nursing Home Residents with Disabilities Celebrate Proposed Agreement with State in Landmark Lawsuit


Gary Arnold, Access Living
(312) 640-2199 voice

Proposed Agreement brings residents one step closer to expanded opportunities for community living and meaningful individual choice

CHICAGO (August 30, 2011) — A groundbreaking proposed agreement announced today in Colbert v. Quinn, if approved by the court, will end the forced, long-standing and unnecessary segregation of people with physical disabilities or mental illness in nursing homes – affording them a real opportunity to live in their own homes and to participate fully in the community.  If the Court approves this agreement, Medicaid-eligible nursing home residents in Cook County will, for the first time, have a meaningful choice about where they wish to live.

In Cook County, thousands of people with physical disabilities and mental illness are warehoused in nursing homes because they cannot afford to live in the community and because they cannot get the services they need in the community.  Under this agreement, filed today in federal court in Chicago, the State will now provide housing assistance to address the biggest obstacle to Medicaid-eligible people with disabilities living in the community.  “This is a momentous day for nursing home residents with disabilities,” said Steve Libowsky of SNR Denton, the lead attorney for the class.  “Because of the way services in Illinois are funded, thousands of people with disabilities are forced to live in nursing homes rather than houses or apartments of their choosing.  If the Court approves this agreement, Illinois will afford people with disabilities a real opportunity to live and participate in their communities and will no longer make a nursing home the only housing option.”

Today’s agreement is the latest development in the case Colbert v. Quinn, originally filed in August 2007 on behalf of a class of nursing home residents with disabilities in Cook County.  According to the Americans with Disabilities Act and the 1999 U.S. Supreme Court Olmstead decision, nursing home residents have the right to receive long-term care services in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs.  The vast majority of people with disabilities who are receiving Medicaid have no meaningful alternative to living in a nursing home. “By providing housing assistance, Illinois is addressing the single greatest obstacle to Medicaid-eligible nursing home residents being able to return to the community,” said Steve Gold of the Law Offices of Stephen F. Gold, co-counsel for the class.

“In the nursing home, I wasn’t able to make my own choices about how I live,” said Lenil Colbert, a named plaintiff who lived in a nursing home at the time the original complaint was filed.  “I had to eat when they told me. I couldn’t leave to visit my family without permission.”    Colbert moved out of the nursing home in 2008 and now lives in his own apartment. “Now that I’m living in my own place, I can make decisions for myself, and come and go as I want.  I’m pleased that more people like me will now be given the choice I had.”

Under the agreement, the State will provide housing and related assistance, including personal assistants, to at least 1,100 Cook County nursing home residents with disabilities during the first two and a half year period of the agreement – the first phase.  “This agreement is a huge step forward for thousands of people who want to live and participate in communities of their choice,” said Marca Bristo, President and CEO of Access Living.  “We commend Illinois for entering into this agreement because it recognizes the right of people with disabilities to choose where to live.   We look forward to partnering with the State to implement the agreement.”

After the first phase, the State will continue to provide housing and related assistance to other Cook County nursing home residents with disabilities so they can move into the community. During the second phase, the state will implement a comprehensive plan to move Medicaid recipients living in nursing homes who desire to move into the community in accordance with a plan based on data collected during the first phase.  The State will spend no more, in the aggregate, than what it is now paying to serve people with disabilities living in nursing homes. “Historically, nursing home costs have far exceeded the costs of community-based services,” said Karen Ward of Equip for Equality, co-counsel for the class.  “This agreement not only offers people with disabilities the choice to live independently, it also provides a significant cost savings to the State.”

Colbert v. Quinn is the third in a trio of class actions brought against the State on behalf of people with all types of disabilities living in institutions to assure them the choice to live in the community.  The other two cases, Ligas v. Hamos and Williams v. Quinn, reached similar settlement agreements.  “Court approval of the Colbert agreement will bring us closer to our goal of ending the involuntary segregation and isolation of people with all types of disabilities in nursing homes and institutions across Cook County and Illinois,” said Benjamin Wolf of the ACLU of Illinois, co-counsel for the class.

Access Living and SNR Denton, which is providing representation on a pro bono basis, are serving as lead counsel on the case.  The plaintiffs are also being represented by attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois and Equip for Equality, and by the Law Offices of Stephen F. Gold.  Colbert v. Quinn is case number 07 C 4737.  For documents related to the settlement, visit For more information, contact Gary Arnold at 312-640-2199 (voice), 773-425-2536 (cell), .

Last updated: January 30, 2014

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