Adult-Home Residents Waiting for New Housing Units
by Cara Matthews Gannett News Service February 22, 2012
More than two years after a ruling was secured in their favor, New York City adult-home residents are still waiting for the 4,500 supported housing units a judge ordered.
A year ago, a federal Court of Appeals judge placed a hold on the order, and no further action has been taken. The major finding in the case, which was filed in 2003, was that the roughly 4,300 adult-home residents were not receiving care in the most integrated setting possible, a violation of federal laws.
New York Mental Health Commissioner Michael Hogan recently told lawmakers the state is ready to negotiate a settlement.
“So on the one hand, we’re waiting for the appellate court to do its thing,” he said at a budget hearing last week. “On the other hand, we are considering a conversation with the plaintiffs about a settlement in that case that might be a win-win.”
The lawsuit was developed using a class of residents from New York City, but it has ramifications statewide. The court has found prolonged confinement in the adult homes violates residents’ rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act and other federal law, said Harvey Rosenthal, executive director of the New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services.
“It would be hard to imagine that the state wouldn’t face additional legal action if it only let New York City adult-home residents” obtain supported housing, he said.
Adult homes were created for frail elderly people, but many patients in psychiatric institutions were discharged to these residences in the process of downsizing state mental hospitals. The community programs have become like the institutions of yesterday, Rosenthal said.
“We’re really trying to, in a sense, take down or reform those community institutions and give people the chance to have a fully integrated life with all the appropriate supports,” he said.
Cliff Zucker, executive director of Disability Advocates, said his group would be pleased to meet with state officials.
“We contacted the defendants several months ago and suggested that it might be a good time for us to discuss the possibility of settlement while we were waiting for the Appellate Court to decide the case,” he said, adding his group has not received a formal response.
Statewide, there are about 28,000 individuals living in more than 450 adult homes, with about one-third in New York City, according to the Coalition of Institutionalized Aged and Disabled, a consumer advocacy group based in New York City. Some 40 percent of adult-home residents have a diagnosis of mental illness.
Current and former adult-home residents with mental illness who volunteer with the coalition said it can be hard to move. There is a lot of paperwork involved and acceptable apartments can be hard to find.
Jerry Rotondo, who lives in Hawthorne, Westchester County, said he went back on the waiting list after he turned down a unit in Yonkers that was in “deplorable” condition.
Coco Cox of the Bronx, who used to live in an adult home, said the coalition advocates for residents and helps them set up residential counsels, food committees, etc.
“In many of the adult homes, it’s really bad. They don’t have anyone to speak out for them,” she said.
Hogan told lawmakers during a public hearing that Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed budget for the 2012-13 fiscal year includes a “substantial commitment to increasing community housing, and should we reach a resolution in that case, the money would be available to begin to take the preliminary steps to develop the housing.”
The budget, which lawmakers have to approve by the April 1 start of the new fiscal year, proposes adding 2,100 housing units for people transitioning out of adult homes and state psychiatric centers into the community by the end of the fiscal year, and a total of 5,100 in the next three years.
Before the Court of Appeals issued a stay in 2011, the state had been making progress in implementing the U.S. District Court order. Hogan said his agency had selected agencies for supported housing, but implementation of the contracts has been on hold.
Rosenthal said he believes state officials recognize that the outcome of the New York City case will have statewide impact.
“This budget sort of unfreezes the supported-housing pipeline, creating more beds throughout the state,” he said.
Last fall, the state and Disability Advocates settled a lawsuit the group had filed over placing people with mental illness in nursing homes. The state agreed to develop housing units for residents who could live in the community.
Cuomo’s budget proposes a total of 1,000 units, 600 by the end of 2013.
The governor said in his State of the State address last month that New York would develop an Olmstead Implementation Plan — named for a U.S. Supreme Court decision — to transition people with disabilities from institutional to community-based care. The plan will incorporate access to affordable housing and employment of people with disabilities.