2010-07-02 / Front Page

Appeals Court: Begin To Shutter Adult Homes

By Howard Schwach

A federal appeals court has ruled that New York State must comply with a lower court decision to begin immediately transferring thousands of people with mental illness out of large, institutional group homes and into their own homes and apartments, a ruling that may well impact Rockaway, where 12 of the group homes are located.

The ruling means that many of the 1,700 mentally ill residents of those homes in Rockaway will have to be moved to supported housing units in the community, where they can live independently while still receiving specialized treatment and services.

In March of last year, Judge Nicholas Garaufis ruled that the roughly 4,300 adult-home residents in New York City were not being cared for in the most integrated setting, a violation of federal law.

Garaufis’ ruling gave the state four years to provide housing in community settings for residents of adult homes in New York City. He ordered that the state develop at least 1,500 beds a year for the first three years, and after that, 1,500 beds a year until there are enough for all residents who want to move into community housing.

That ruling was appealed by the state and an offer was made to begin the process much more slowly due to budgetary problems.

Garaufis, however, rejected the state plan and ruled that it would have to begin immediately to place the mentally ill adult home patients within the community.

The state got a stay of that ruling, which ended on Friday.

The decision by a two-judge panel of the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit lifted that stay. What that means, experts say, is that the state must now begin the process of developing and implementing a plan to create at least 1,500 units of supportive housing a year for the next three years.

The plan would give nearly all current and future adult home residents the opportunity to move to supportive housing scattered throughout the community, where they could live independently, while still getting visits from nurses, psychologists and other support staff.

Glenn Lieberman, the executive director of the Mental Health Association of New York State, said recently in a prepared statement, “The decision compels the state to act aggressively to create independent housing for residents. Rather than continuous appeals, we urge the state to find the resources to develop the independent housing necessary for residents. At the end of the day, we are talking about the lives of real people, many of whom have spent years in these homes simply because of their diagnosis and limited community options. When you talk to residents about how they wound up in adult homes, and what their lives have been like, it would soften even the most ardent opponent to reform. We owe it to these residents to make amends for the past by providing them with independent housing and the community services that will be helpful to their recovery.”

Jennifer Mathis, deputy legal director for the Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, agrees.

“This is an extremely important ruling,” said Mathis “It reaffirms the importance of integration as a civil right and lays out the types of measures that states may need to take in order to comply with the earlier Olmstead ruling. Many states have wrongly looked at Olmstead compliance as a costly measure,” she said. “To the contrary; complying with Olmstead typically saves states money. It’s about people’s civil rights.”

“New York has some of the leading supported housing providers in the country,” Mathis added. “They know how to serve a wide range of people with mental illness — including people with very challenging needs — effectively in supported housing. New York must now expand that supported housing capacity so that people with mental illness can have a meaningful choice and can live in supported housing rather than being stuck in adult homes.”

Some locals agree.

Attorney and Belle Harbor resident Howard Sirota said, “Rockaway residents should applaud the federal appeals court lifting the stay of emptying the hell-holes posing as therapeutic assistance, which plague our [Rockaway] neighborhoods. The result of the ruling is that the residents will be scattered around the five boroughs in suitable housing with real therapy and a real hope for an independent life instead of the residents of the five boroughs all being placed in Rockaway.”

“The Park Inn and its ilk must now close at long last,” he added. “The former residents will be much better off, and so will Rockaway.”

Many, however, do not see the judge’s decision as a victory for the Rockaway community.

Jeffrey Edelman, president of the New York Coalition for Quality Assisted Living, which represents the majority of the group homes, called the order “irresponsible” and “deeply disturbing.”

Edelman told New York Times reporter A. G. Sulzburger, “The judge’s decision, entirely following the advocates’ agenda, could force thousands of mentally ill from their stable lives into independent living situations for which the majority are neither psychologically or physically prepared.”

Some locals feel the same way.

“Placing mentally ill people into a stable community will only serve to destabilize it,” one real estate broker, who asked not to be identified, said. 

“There are so many vacant rental units in Rockaway, I am afraid that the state will use the peninsula as a dumping ground for as many mentally ill as they can cram in.”

The adult homes on the Rockaway peninsula impacted by the lawsuit and slated to be closed are the Belle Harbor Manor, New Gloria’s Manor Home for Adults, New Haven Manor, Park Inn Home for Adults, Rockaway Manor Home for Adults, Surfside Home for Adults, Central Assisted Living, LLC, Long Island Hebrew Living Center, Seaview Manor and Wavecrest Home for Adults.

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