Mental Health Consumers Protest State’s Continued Investment in Exploitative IMDs, Reveal Plan for Deinstitutionalization
On Monday, April 11, 2011 at 12 PM, over 100 members of ONE’s Mental Health Justice Taskforce, a coalition of Chicagoland residents in recovery from mental illness and/or addiction, rallied outside the Thompson Center to publicly denounce the Williams v Quinn implementation plan that the State of Illinois submitted to a federal district court in February.
According to the consent decree in Williams v Quinn, the State of Illinois is obligated to provide 4,500 people living in IMDs (Institutes of Mental Diseases) with opportunities that will enable them to permanently leave nursing homes and transition into the community. The Mental Health Justice Taskforce expresses deep disappointment over the inadequacy of the State’s current plan, as it does not commit the significant funds that are necessary to guarantee that IMD residents will be able to transition successfully into independent living settings.
In addition to objecting to the State’s plan, the Mental Health Justice Taskforce also announces its set of recommendations for the final implementation plan, which stresses that the State must invest real dollars in the expansion of supportive services and recovery programs at community mental health centers and in providing adequate supports for decent and safe independent living arrangements.
IMD residents suffer egregious violations on their human rights every day that they are institutionalized. Taskforce members point out that by crafting a plan that devotes no significant funds to facilitate the successful transition of IMD residents, the State is unwittingly eluding its responsibility to remedy these human rights violations and ensuring their continued institutionalization.
“How can the State move people out of nursing homes if they don’t put any money behind the transfer plan?” queried Ralph Johnson, a Rogers Park resident. “We want to talk to [state officials] about what it takes to transition people out of nursing homes so that they can have a better life.”
People in recovery from mental illness across the State of Illinois are fed up with the inhumane living conditions in IMDs and want their peers to be freed from them forever. Edgewater resident Deborah Rose explained, “No one should have to rot away in a nursing home for the rest of their life. Nursing homes rob people of their dignity, their agency, and their ability to recover. They are horrible places. Residents are routinely abused and neglected. People’s belongings are stolen all the time. The medical care is deplorable. People starve because they are underfed, so they beg for food on the streets. It’s a nightmare.”
Deborah’s neighbor and friend, Jeanne Cord, shared, “See, the nursing homes perpetrate these cons on people with mental illness. They promise an incoming resident that the nursing home is a great place to live, with excellent recovery programs and everything that a person needs in order to recover. Once a resident gets locked in there, the recovery programs are sparse, the treatment is cruel, and the medical care is a joke. My husband almost died in a nursing home due to the staff’s criminal negligence. Residents are often overmedicated so that they can be controlled. Nursing homes can’t really keep people safe from harm and violence. Nobody can recover in an atmosphere like that, where our humanity is taken from us.”
“Then, if someone wants to leave,” explained an anonymous mental health consumer living independently, “the staff triggers their illness and makes them sicker so they can’t go. These nursing homes treat people with mental illness like cash cows and will do anything to keep someone’s social security check. They don’t care about our well-being.”
Taskforce members have also raised serious concerns about the recent closure of IMDs on the North side of Chicago. The closures were a result of federal investigations that discovered widespread and severe health and safety violations within those institutions. While Taskforce members welcome the closure of these IMDs, they are troubled by the fact that residents were moved to other nursing homes instead of independent living situations and that their life circumstances are not changing overall. They are also concerned that these closures will lead to more overcrowding in other nursing homes and more homelessness among people with mental illness, as many people will choose to be on the streets rather than be imprisoned in a dirty, overcrowded nursing home that imposes social control on them.
Taskforce members are eager to meet with state officials in the Governor’s Office and in the Division of Mental Health in order to be included in the process of finalizing the implementation plan as it moves forward. Today, they are calling on the State to create a fair plan in collaboration with the people most affected by the Williams v Quinn consent decree, mental health consumers and people who want to exit IMDs.
People with mental illness joined at the Thompson Center on April 11 to advocate for a rebalancing of state funds and for mental health justice and parity.
Their demands? Disinvest from IMDs, which receive funding increases every year, and use those funds to do the following:
a) Restore the mental health and addiction programs at community mental health centers that have been decimated by annual budget cuts, and
b) Expand existing rental assistance subsidy programs that ensure safe, decent, independent, and integrated community living.
Media coverage on the rally: