U.S. Appeals Court Lifts Stay on Relocating Mentally Ill

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A federal appeals court has ruled that New York State must comply with a lower court’s order to begin immediately transferring thousands of people with mental illness in New York City out of large, institutional group homes and into their own homes and apartments, where they will continue to receive specialized treatment and services.

The decision by a two-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit to lift a stay of the lower court order means that after seven years of litigation, the state must now hurriedly begin the process of developing and executing a plan to create at least 1,500 units of so-called supportive housing a year for the next three years at state expense.

“Certainly it’s a complicated and important process that hopefully won’t get bogged down in bureaucracy,” said Geoff Lieberman, executive director of the Coalition of Institutionalized Aged and Disabled, an organization of adult homes and nursing home residents. “We’re hoping that there are a good number of adult home residents who will be able to move over the next 6 to 12 months.”

A spokesman for Gov. David A. Paterson said the state, wrestling with severe budget deficits, was in the process of determining its next steps.

Last September, Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis of United States District Court in Brooklyn found that the state had violated the Americans With Disabilities Act by keeping approximately 4,300 people with mental illness isolated from the outside world in warehouselike conditions in more than two dozen privately run adult homes. The state pays the homes for their care.

Over the vehement objection of the state and the owners of the homes, Judge Garaufis issued a remedial plan in March.

The plan would give nearly all current and future adult home residents the opportunity to move into supported housing scattered throughout the boroughs, where they would live independently while also receiving assistance like case-management services and visits from psychiatrists and nurses.

The state, which argued that advocates for residents of adult homes had overestimated the demand for and underestimated the cost of supported housing, appealed the decision.

An appeals court judge granted a temporary stay of the lower court’s order, but the court lifted that stay on Wednesday even though the appeal has not been decided. That places the state under the watch of a court monitor to ensure compliance with the ruling in the months before the appeal is heard.

“The expectation under this order is that they will be moving at a fast clip, and housing should be created as this appeal is pending,” said Cliff Zucker, the executive director of Disability Advocates, the nonprofit legal services group that filed the lawsuit. “People are clamoring to leave adult homes and get into supported apartments.”

Maggie McQuillar, a resident of Harbor Terrace Adult Home and Assisted Living on Staten Island, was among those eager to move out of a shared bedroom and live on her own. “I’m a senior citizen with a disability, but I can take care of myself,” said Ms. McQuillar, 68, who said she had diabetes and bipolar disorder.

“I’d be better off in a studio or one-bedroom,” she said. “Once you get here, you sort of get stuck here.”

Reported by A. G. SULZBERGER
The New York Times

Submitted by Anna

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