Legislature considers bailout for powerful nursing home lobby, threatening to reverse progress in provision of mental health care, cost savings in Illinois

CHICAGO – The Illinois General Assembly is considering a measure (Senate Bill 45) that threatens to undermine significant recent progress in the manner that mental health care services are provided in the State of Illinois. The progress is happening under a court-monitored consent decree in an ACLU of Illinois-led case, Williams v. Quinn, which moves people with mental illness from large nursing homes (IMDs) into their own apartments and homes. Discussions around Senate Bill 45 make clear that it is little more than a “bailout” for the powerful nursing home lobby, whose members fear losing revenue as Illinois residents are offered the opportunity to move into the community. Worse still, in a time of economic challenges in the State, the bill would warehouse more Illinois residents in large, impersonal IMDs, which are a more expensive way to provide care than the community living arrangements mandated by the Williams decree.

“Current discussions surrounding Senate Bill 45 show that it is little more than a multi-million dollar bailout for a large, powerful lobby,” said Benjamin Wolf, associate legal director for the ACLU of Illinois and lead counsel for the Williams class. “Just a little less than two years ago, a federal court approved an agreement to move away from the antiquated, overly-expensive system of warehousing people in IMDs. The notion that we are going to return to that model – to serve the interests of a few powerful nursing home owners – is bad for the State and bad for the people who would be stuck in these facilities”

In September 2010, a federal court in Chicago approved an agreement that allowed more than 4,000 persons with mental illness the chance to receive the services they need in their own homes and apartments instead of large, institutional nursing homes known as Institutions for Mental Diseases (IMDs). These facilities allow individuals little opportunity for independent living and personal growth. Mental health experts uniformly agree that warehousing people in these large facilities is an inefficient and ineffective way to provide mental health care services.

The plan under Williams also will relieve some of the state’s financial burden created by housing persons in IMDs. IMDs are supported entirely by state funding. It is less expensive to house an individual in the community, and the State is able to receive reimbursement from the federal government for medications and other services. Estimates are that the State can save millions of dollars each year under the Williams’ plan. Those savings are threatened by Senate Bill 45, a placeholder for the IMDs legislation.

The Williams’ litigation was led by the ACLU of Illinois, in collaboration with Access Living, Equip for Equality, the Bazelon Center and the Chicago office of Kirkland and Ellis. These groups helped make possible the success being achieved under the agreement.

“We are seeing progress in helping people move from IMDs into the community under Williams,” added Wolf. “Clearly, that alarms the IMD owners and their lobbyists. We must not permit these special interests to reverse this progress in order to satisfy their own desire for profits.”

“It is true that we need more mental health care services in Illinois,” Wolf continued. “But we know that IMDs never have proved an effective model for providing this care. The legislature should reject Senate Bill 45.”