Stanley Ligas

 

 

Ligas Continues to Be Important for Misericordia and its Families

 

Amazingly, the Ligas case is entering its twelfth year.  During those twelve years, many new families have joined the Misericordia community.  In addition, some families may no longer remember what Ligas is all about and why it continues to be an important case for Misericordia.  Therefore, I thought I would do a short article on the origins and background of the case, what has happened over the past twelve years, and the current issues. 

 

The Ligas Complaint was filed in federal court on July 28, 2005 by Stanley Ligas and eight other individuals with developmental disabilities.  The case was filed against the State of Illinois and was brought as a class action.  Stanley Ligas and the other plaintiffs claimed to represent all individuals with developmental disabilities who are in need of residential care.  Stanley and some of the other plaintiffs lived in ICF/DDs; other plaintiffs lived at home.  All claimed that they wished to live in CILAs (small homes in the community), but Illinois was not adequately providing CILAs as an option.  If the complaint had stopped here, we would have had no problem.  Misericordia has always supported choice.  Anyone who wishes to live in a CILA should have the opportunity to do so.  At the same time, anyone who wishes to live in an ICF/DD should also have the opportunity to do so.

 

However, to support their claim, Stanley Ligas and the other plaintiffs made terrible and false allegations about ICF/DDs.  They claimed that only by living in small homes in the community can an individual with a developmental disability maintain “family relations, social contacts, work options, economic independence, educational advancement, and cultural enrichment.”  They further claimed that living in ICF/DDs leads to “regression, deterioration, isolation, and segregation.”  The plaintiffs referred to ICF/DDs as “segregated, isolated institutions that deprive” individuals their “basic liberties.”

 

As you can see, these claims attacked our choice to have our loved ones reside at Misericordia.  It painted a black and white picture.  Small group homes are good for all individuals with developmental disabilities; larger facilities like Misericordia are bad.  Fortunately, Misericordia sibling and lawyer, Bill Choslovsky, noticed the lawsuit and brought it to the attention of Sister Rosemary.  He generously offered to get involved to protect the interests of Misericordia and its families.  Over the last twelve years, Bill has tirelessly devoted thousands of hours to this case.    

 

Since neither Misericordia nor its residents were official parties to the case, Bill could not become a lawyer of record in Ligas unless he was permitted to “intervene.”  Unfortunately, Judge Holderman denied his motion to intervene, holding that the State of Illinois would adequately protect our interests.  It took us four and a half years to convince Judge Holderman that the State was not our friend.  In 2007, the plaintiffs subpoenaed Misericordia for the medical records of approximately 100 of its residents.  The plaintiffs claimed that they needed these records to show that any individual with a developmental disability could live in a small home in the community, even though none of our residents wished to move.  I got involved to help these Miz residents resist the disclosure of their medical records.

 

In December 2008, the plaintiffs and the State reached a settlement.  The terms of the settlement made it clear that the State was not representing our interests.  For example, one of the terms required the State to reduce one ICF bed, for each new CILA bed.  Clearly this would have limited the options for those who wished to reside in an ICF and it exposed the State as being solely concerned with not increasing its costs in providing services to the developmentally disabled.  In July 2009, the Court held a hearing to determine the fairness of the proposed settlement.  Hundreds of Misericordia families filed objections with the Court and dozens showed up to testify at the fairness hearing.  Bill also organized families across the entire state, resulting in the Court receiving an unprecedented 2,500 objections.  On the day of the fairness hearing, the court room was jam-packed with families who objected to the settlement.  Judge Holderman patiently heard every family member who wished to speak.  Dozens spoke about the great care their loved ones received at Misericordia and other ICF/DDs and how devastating it would be if they had to move.  Judge Holderman was clearly moved by the heart-felt presentations.  After the hearing, he refused to approve the settlement.

 

Judge Holderman ordered the plaintiffs and the State to sit down with Bill and me and negotiate a new settlement.  He told them that he would not approve a new settlement unless Bill and I agreed to it.  Months of negotiations followed to get the plaintiffs and the State to agree to provisions protecting those who wish to live in ICF/DDs.  A new settlement was finally reached in December 2010.  In the new agreement, the State agreed to respect the residential choices of individuals with developmental disabilities, including those who choose to reside in ICF/DDs.  The State also agreed to provide the resources necessary to meet the needs of those who choose to live in ICF/DDs.  A second fairness hearing was held in June 2011, and the settlement agreement was approved.

 

The settlement agreement continues for nine years, until June 2020.  During this time, we, along with the plaintiffs and the court-appointed monitor are making sure that the State honors its commitments in the agreement.  As you know, the State failed to pass a budget for its fiscal year starting on July 1, 2016.  The state comptroller took the position that without a budget she could not issue checks to operators of ICF/DDs and CILAs.  Many operators were at risk of closing.  We went to court, along with the plaintiffs, this past summer to get an order requiring the comptroller to make the required payments.

 

The current issue in Ligas is the State’s failure to increase the rates it pays ICFs and CILAs since March 2008.  In those eight years, costs have increased about 20%, but what the State pays Misericordia and the other providers has remained frozen.  The only way Misericordia and other providers are able to continue to meet the needs of their residents is by raising ever increasing amounts of money from family and friends.  The State, in essence, has shifted its responsibility to provide necessary resources to the families of individuals with developmental disabilities.  This is wrong and we believe that it violates the State’s obligation under the Ligas settlement agreement to provide the resources necessary to meet the needs of individuals with developmental disabilities without regard to whether they choose to live in an ICF/DD or CILA.  The court-appointed Monitor agrees with us and has found that the State is not in compliance with the settlement agreement.  We are currently meeting with the State to see if we can agree on a plan to bring the State into compliance.  The State has taken the position that it is in compliance with the agreement.  If we cannot resolve this issue, we will ask the court to do so. We may be calling on you for help, as we did back in 2010.  The testimony from families is far more effective than the arguments of lawyers.  We are working with the plaintiffs on this issue because we have a common interest in making sure that the State is providing adequate funding for all residential options.

 

I hope the above gives you a good sense of what Ligas is about.  I am happy to provide any additional information you may want.

 

Scott