Chapter Update

Wednesday, August 11

Williams v. Quinn Class-Action Lawsuit and the Proposed Consent Decree

Joel L. Rubin, MSW, CAE

On August 10, 2010, the NASW Illinois Chapter—along with other organizations around the state—wrote a letter of support in the Williams v. Quinn class-action lawsuit and proposed consent decree.

Equip for Equality and the ACLU, along with other counsel, have filed a class-action case in the Northern District of Illinois on behalf of individuals with mental illness who live in nursing homes called Institutions for Mental Diseases (IMDs), instead of their own apartments or other small settings, due to the state's failure to integrate these people into the community as is their right under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the U.S. Supreme Court's Olmstead decision. The case seeks to force the state to offer IMD residents the opportunity to live and receive appropriate services in the community rather than in large institutional settings. After five years, the state has agreed to settle the case, and the court granted preliminary approval to a proposed Consent Decree in May. The U.S. Supreme Court will make a final decision about whether it will approve the settlement after a fairness hearing which is scheduled for September 7, 2010. This is an extremely important case that will have a direct and beneficial effect on social workers in the field of mental health. The following is the full text of the letter to Judge William T. Hart, United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division.

August 10, 2010

The Hon. William T. Hart
United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division

Everett McKinley Dirksen
United States Courthouse
219 South Dearborn Street Room 2243
Chicago, IL 60604

RE:Proposed Consent Decree in Williams v. Quinn, No. 05 C 4673

Dear Judge Hart:

As a result of the work of its individual member social workers and its stated policy positions, NASW and the NASW, Illinois Chapter have an interest in the outcome of the Williams v. Quinn class-action lawsuit and the proposed consent decree.

Established in 1955, the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) is the largest association of professional social workers in the world with 145,000 members and 56 chapters. The Illinois Chapter of NASW has 7,000 member social workers. With the purpose of developing and disseminating standards of social work practice while strengthening and unifying the social work profession as a whole, NASW provides continuing education, enforces the NASW Code of Ethics, conducts research, publishes books and studies, promulgates professional criteria, and develops policy statements on issues of importance to the social work profession.

NASW’s policy statement, People with Disabilities, supports “a national policy that ensures the right of people with disabilities to participate fully and equitable in society. This participation includes the freedom, to the fullest extent, possible, to live independently, to exercise self-determination, to make decisions about their living conditions and treatment plans, to obtain an education, to be employed, and to participate as citizens.” It also supports “state and federal funding to allow people with disabilities to participate fully and equitably in society with appropriate supports to meet individual needs.” NASW, Social Work Speaks (8th ed., 2009).

Social workers have long been involved in advocating for services for vulnerable populations, including those individuals with physical and mental disabilities, and providing direct services to these individuals. NASW joined with other organizations in filing an amici curiae brief in the landmark case, Olmstead v. L.C. ex rel. Zimring, 527 U.S. 581 (1999).

NASW supports the proposed consent decree and writes to offer specific recommendations as to the implementation of certain details. The proposal to offer supported housing and individualized evaluations to the residents of nursing homes who have mental illness would represent a significant outcome of immeasurable value to this group of Illinois citizens should it be approved by the court.

            The requirement that evaluations are tailored to the needs of individual clients comports with NASW’s Code of Ethics, Standard 1.02, which requires social workers to “promote the right of clients to self-determination and assist clients in their efforts to identify and clarify their goals.” The proposal for evaluations to be conducted by “Qualified Professionals” is also an important element to assure a threshold of competency throughout the evaluation process. The definition of qualified professionals as “persons who are appropriately licensed, credentialed, trained and employed by a PASRR Agency” is a crucial foundation for professional-level services; however, it may require further review or clarification, as there are many levels of licensure for health and mental health practitioners, and a determination of what is considered “appropriate” may vary considerably. It is NASW’s experience that professional services tend to be downgraded to a sub-professional level when budget-tightening measures are required and that this may occur without a full appreciation of the impact on quality service delivery.

            A major point of concern for social workers is whether the State of Illinois will maintain the necessary level of financial commitment to carry out the mandates of the proposed consent decree after former nursing home residents are transferred to community-based residences. Judicial oversight for a sufficient transition period is necessary to assure that the requirements of the consent decree are fulfilled and for state officials to have an opportunity to review the outcomes achieved by transferring nursing home residents to supported housing in the community. The proposed five-year transition period is the minimum period that would permit appropriate oversight and NASW would support a longer period of review by the court.

            We appreciate the court’s consideration of the social work profession’s perspective in this matter and look forward to a beneficial outcome for those with mental illness who are currently residing in Illinois nursing homes.

Joel L. Rubin, MSW, CAE
Executive Director


Joel L. Rubin, MSW, CAE, has served as executive director of the 7,000 member Illinois Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) since October 1999. He has over twenty-five years of nonprofit management and fundraising experience including extensive work with boards of directors, committees and volunteers, and advocacy around a wide variety of social work, human service, and international political issues. Joel is a graduate of the Wexner Heritage Fellowship Leadership Program and a current adjunct professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago Jane Addams College of Social Work as well as Loyola University Chicago School of Social Work.

Posted on 08/11/10 at 08:00 AM


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