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State Dumps Budget Woes on the Disabled

CHICAGO (CN) - Illinois budget cuts will kick mentally and physically disabled adults out of state homes without assurance they can find care elsewhere, their guardians say in a class action.

The Illinois League of Advocates for the Developmentally Disabled, Murray Parents Association, and 11 legal guardians of developmentally disabled adults sued the Illinois Department of Human Services, its Director Kevin Casey, and the Community Resource Alliance, in Federal Court.

The individual plaintiffs have severe disabilities and live in state-run developmental centers, which the 39-page complaint refers to as SODCs.

Like other class actions that have been filed against states around the country, this one accuses the state of trying to dump its budget burden onto those least able to carry it. And, as often happens, the state chose a cruelly ironic name for its legislation: the Save Medicaid Access and Resources Together act - SMART.

"In February 2012, as a means to contend with the State's $13 billion deficit,

Governor [Patrick] Quinn announced his intention to close two SODCs by October 31, 2012 (the Jacksonville Developmental Center), and by October 31, 2013 (Murray in Centralia, Illinois), and on information and belief, to close all remaining SODCs soon thereafter," the complaint states. [Parentheses in complaint.]

"On June 14, 2012, Governor Quinn signed a package of legislation which included $1.6 billion worth of Medicaid cuts endangering the poorest and neediest of the state's residents, and in particular, individuals with severe and profound developmental disabilities.

"The signing of the 'Save Medicaid Access and Resources Together' Act, Public Act 097-0689, slashed an annual $240 million that provided critical funding to State nursing homes and hospitals and results in the planned closure of SODCs in Illinois," plaintiffs claim.

They say that "the budget cuts implemented as of July 1, 2012, have caused and will cause the eventual elimination of services for the individual plaintiffs and plaintiffs' class members, as well as the imminent closure of all Illinois SODCs. Indeed, on information and belief, it is the State's intention to close all of Illinois' SODCs despite the fact that Illinois residents now living in SODCs, inclusive of the individual plaintiffs' and plaintiffs' class members, will have no appropriate placement.

"In the absence of an injunction, the individual plaintiffs and plaintiffs' class members will be irreparably harmed by the closure of SODCs. Many residents of SODCs, including the individual plaintiffs and plaintiffs' class members, are incapable of living independently in community-based settings."

When the Jacksonville Developmental Center closed, nearly 30 percent of the patients were admitted to the hospital or emergency room and 8.5 percent had to deal with police, according to the complaint.

"Services offered by the SODCs are necessary and critical to the residents' physical well-being," the complaint states. "An interruption in care, even if temporary, is more likely than not to have serious consequences on the health and well-being of the profoundly disabled. While alternative services may be available to replace the SODC services at issue, defendants have admitted that if their community-based placement fails, residents may have to seek services in other states and they (the defendants), can only speculate about whether that State will be able to provide equivalent services as mandated by federal laws.

"Defendants have not met their legal burden under applicable federal and state laws ... to ensure that more than a theoretical availability of replacement services will exist if they eliminate all SODC services."

The guardians seek an injunction prohibiting the closure of the SODC's or reduction of services to the developmentally disabled until replacement services are secured.

They are represented by Judy Sherwin with Shefsky & Froelich.

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