FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Barry C. Taylor, Legal Advocacy Director
(800) 537-2632, ext. 7317
(800) 610-2779 TTY
(800) 537-2632, ext. 7316
(800) 610-2779 TTY
Complaint Filed Against Reopening of Notorious Lincoln Development Center
Equip for Equality Calls on Federal Government To Withhold Medicaid Funding for Institution
CHICAGO (March 27, 2006) --An advocacy group for people with disabilities has filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to deny funding for Lincoln Developmental Center (LDC), an infamous institution with a well-documented history of abuse and neglect that the State is seeking to reopen.
Equip for Equality, the federally-mandated protection and advocacy agency for persons with disabilities in Illinois, argues reopening Lincoln would violate federal law by diverting funds to a large institution instead of investing in smaller, community-style settings where people with disabilities can more easily integrate into the community.
Illinois ranks 49th among the 50 states in the number of people with developmental disabilities who live in community settings. Reopening Lincoln -shut down in February 2002 by then-Gov. George Ryan after a series of investigations detailed abuses including sexual assault and the suffocation death of a resident-will only exacerbate that shameful record.
"Federal law requires states to provide community-based services for people with developmental disabilities, yet Illinois keeps funneling money to large institutions like Lincoln," said Laura Miller, Managing Attorney at Equip for Equality. "Other states have successfully integrated people with developmental disabilities into the community while Illinois continues to move backwards by expanding institutions."
In the complaint, Equip for Equality notes Illinois has failed to identify enough residents willing to move back into LDC, yet plans for reopening are moving forward. Advocates argue the initiative is driven by political and economic interests rather than by sound social policy decisions.
During the 2002 gubernatorial campaign, Rod Blagojevich buckled under pressure from unions and political and business leaders in the Lincoln area and promised to reopen the institution. Those seeking the reopening of Lincoln believe the reinstated jobs will revive the area's economy, but Equip for Equality says that's a poor reason to reinvest in the sprawling, 80-acre complex.
"It's a shame that Gov. Blagojevich is jeopardizing the well-being of people with developmental disabilities just to keep an ill-informed campaign promise," said Miller. "Economic development must not be advanced at the detriment of the disability community." In his FY07 budget proposal, Governor Blagojevich failed to include any additional funding for community-based services for people with developmental disabilities. The only new disability funding was targeted to the reopening of Lincoln Developmental Center.
After a decade of investigations by state authorities uncovering widespread abuse and neglect of the institution's residents, Gov. Ryan ordered LDC shut down in February 2002. These abuses included: sexual assault; the drowning death of a resident left behind after outing to a public swimming pool; the death by asphyxiation and suffocation of a resident who was restrained face-down for 35 minutes by five staff members; a nurse choking a resident with a bed sheet (he was later convicted of aggravated battery); several residents ingesting non-food items, such as pen caps, latex gloves, and medication prescribed for other people; and a staff member forcing a resident to lick her own urine from the floor.
The complaint asks HHS to deny the use of Medicaid or other federal funding for rebuilding or future operation of LDC. Equip for Equality hopes this will open the door to more funding for community-based services.
Seven years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that unnecessary institutionalization is discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act. As a result, most states have invested in community-based housing and services, but Illinois has dragged its feet.
In July, 2005, Equip for Equality and its co-counsel filed a lawsuit against the State, demanding that it comply with federal law. Earlier this month, U.S. District Court Judge James Holderman granted class action status to that lawsuit, moving thousands of Illinois' residents with developmental disabilities a step closer to having a choice over where they live.