The federal lawsuit to keep open the Warren G. Murray Center is moving forward, with a preliminary injunction filed last week that would prohibit further movement by the State in its efforts to shutter the Centralia facility.
According to Chicago attorney Judith Sherwin, who has filed the case on behalf of the Murray Parents’ Association, along with the Illinois League of Advocates for the Developmentally Disabled and several individuals, the judge presiding over the case has given the State until March 25 to respond to the plaintiff’s preliminary injunction request.
She says Judge Marvin E. Aspen has likely already reviewed the case and after receiving initial briefings by both sides may call for an evidentiary hearing in the case, at which both the plaintiff’s and the defense would bring forward evidence arguing their sides.
Sherwin argues that the State’s plan to close Murray Center “violates federal law” and that the way they have dealt with guardians of both Murray and the already shuttered Jacksonville Developmental Center is a “juggernaut” that should be stopped.
The State’s closure plan, she says, is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act, Mediaid and a variety of other state and federal laws. She believes the State’s position is largely built upon a misunderstanding of the Olmstead Act, and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s reading of the Court’s opinion in that case.
Under Title II of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, said Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, delivering the opinion of the court, “states are required to place persons with mental disabilities in community settings rather than in institutions when the State’s treatment professionals have determined that community placement is appropriate, the transfer from institutional care to a less restrictive setting is not opposed by the affected individual, and the placement can be reasonably accommodated, taking into account the resources available to the State and the needs of others with mental disabilities. ”
Sherwin argues that the State ends its interpretation of the opinion with the statement “states are required,” but does not continue with the remainder of the opinion.
She says the State believes the placement in two to four-bed private community integrated living arrangement (CILA) homes is the proper course for all developmentally disabled persons, despite their lack of nursing staff or certified QMRPs [qualified mental retardation professionals.]
She says based upon meetings with the State and Mark Doyle with the Department of Human Services (DHS), that the State’s intent is to ultimately close all SODCs in Illinois and any resident not suited for CILA or ICF/DD [intermediate care facility for persons with developmental disabilities] placement could be sent to another state where SODCs are still available.
Closures would remove “safety net”
Sherwin disagrees with the State’s position on the issue, saying to close all SODCs would “remove a safety net” for Illinois’ developmentally disabled, and she seeks to halt their closure plans.
But Sherwin notes the legal efforts will not stop with a temporary restraining order (TRO) that would prevent the State from removing anyone from the Murray Center, or with a preliminary injunction that would follow. She says she hopes to pursue the case to the point of a consent decree that would put a definitive stop to the State’s efforts to close all state operated developmental centers (SODCs).
According to Sherwin, a similar effort was in the works for JDC following the finding by the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board, allowing for the facility’s closure. However, she believes the State caught wind of the effort and raced to complete the closure before a case was filed. An almost equal number of JDC residents were moved out of the facility within four days following the Review Board hearing as were moved out in the 10 months prior.
She says they had 35 days to file a suit arguing against the Review Board’s decision and their suit was ready by the 30th day. But two days prior the State relocated 35 JDC residents.
“Most of them were sent off to other SODCs, including Murray where they will theoretically need to be moved again,” Sherwin explained.
She says the residents were loaded onto buses with boxes of their possessions and “disappeared.” As a result of the facility being emptied at the last minute, Sherwin says a judge would likely find the case to halt the JDC closure moot, as the facility had already been shuttered. But the case was filed, anyway, and is currently active in Morgan County, Ill.
As Sherwin and her law firm, Shefsky & Froelich, take the fight to the federal court in Chicago, she notes the battle began with the guiding efforts of Rita Burke, president of the Illinois League of Advocates for the Developmentally Disabled; and Rita Winkeler, president of the Murray Parents Association.
“They are truly warriors,” Sherwin says of the two women. “They are a genuine pleasure to work with.”