O’TOOLE v. CUOMO
Formerly Disability Advocates Inc. v. Cuomo
In an enormous victory for more than 4,000 New Yorkers living in large private “adult homes,” on March 1, 2010 the Eastern District Court of New York ordered the State to afford all qualified residents an opportunity to move into supported housing where they can receive mental health and social services in their own apartments and homes. After a month-long trial in May and June of 2009, the court had ruled on September 8 that New York State violates the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act by unnecessarily segregating people with mental illnesses in these 120-plus bed facilities, contrary to the Supreme Court’s Olmstead ruling. The complaint, filed in 2003, alleged that the “homes,” which house former psychiatric hospital patients, lack the staff, resources or mandate to provide integrated housing and services to promote community living.
The lawsuit sought the creation of additional “supported apartments” for adult home residents, where appropriate rehabilitation and support services could be provided to those who wish to live outside an institution. The State already licenses and provides financial support for such independent apartments, but has failed to create enough of them to meet the needs of adult home residents.
After the State proposed to develop only 1,000 alternative placements over six years in response to the 2009 order, the plaintiffs and the U.S. Department of Justice filed briefs assailing such a proposal as “unreasonable and inadequate to address the violations found by the Court.” The Department’s brief supported the plaintiffs’ request that the court order the State to create 1,500 units of supported housing per year. The Justice Department had earlier notified the court of its intent to intervene in the case on the basis of its “strong interest in ensuring the proper and consistent application of its ADA regulations.” Citing President Obama’s stated commitment to enforcing Olmstead, the Department seeks to ensure that the remedy the judge will order both transforms the plaintiffs’ lives and serves as a model for other courts nationwide.
In July of 2013, a landmark settlement agreement was reached. Under the agreement, the state will provide as many scattered-site, supported housing units as necessary to afford all adult home residents with serious mental illnesses the opportunity to live in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs, and will provide and maintain community services and supports including but not limited to:
- Care coordination
- Psychiatric rehabilitation services
- Employment services
- Assistance with taking medication
- Home health care
- Personal assistance services
- Assertive community treatment
- Crisis services
Unfortunately, the state has been transitioning adult home residents to supported housing at a disappointingly slow pace. Due to this, our attorneys have continued meeting with the independent reviewer assigned to the case to raise concerns and discuss strategies to resolve the state’s problems with compliance. As a consequence of the negotiation process and the court’s directions, the state took a number of steps designed to speed up the process of assessment and transition and to improve the care coordination and care planning for residents who transition out of the adult homes. These changes are expected to make significant improvements in the pace and quality of the process. The Bazelon Center continues to press the state to take additional steps to ensure that it is on track to meet the benchmarks in the settlement agreement.
Disability Advocates, Inc., a not-for-profit public interest law office, brought the suit on behalf of residents. Co-counsel in the case are: Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP; New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, Inc.; The Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law; MFY Legal Services; and the Urban Justice Center.