A federal judge on Tuesday denied three not-for-profit organizations the right to temporarily stop a new oversight system set to begin Monday for the care of Illinoisans with developmental disabilities.
The groups, including Central Illinois Service Access in Lincoln, immediately appealed the decision by U.S. District Court Judge Richard Mills to the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in hopes of getting Mills' ruling overturned by the end of this week.
The groups said in court documents and a hearing Friday in Mills’ Springfield courtroom that they want a preliminary injunction to halt changes they believe will disrupt and potentially endanger the lives of thousands of disabled clients in group homes and other residential settings.
“We think that the judge got the law wrong,” Sarah Jane Hunt, an attorney for CISA and not-for-profits in Macomb and Chicago’s suburbs, told GateHouse Media Illinois after Mills’ denial of the groups’ request for the injunction.
Mills ruled in favor of the Illinois Department of Human Services, which was represented by the state attorney general’s office. A spokeswoman for the attorney general didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Court documents and testimony on behalf of CISA, Macomb-based Western Illinois Service Coordination and DayOne Pact in Lisle and Geneva said the state’s new contracts violate the rights of clients whose services are funded by Medicaid.
The new contracts deny clients the right to continue to receive services from agencies such as CISA even if an agency loses out on a contract to serve a certain part of the state, the groups argued.
The groups said the state’s new contracts with “independent service-coordination agencies,” which create larger service territories, would result in clients seeing caseworkers less frequently.
The contracts also would lead to many clients losing longtime caseworkers adept at spotting potential abuse and neglect by not-for-profit and for-profit residential service providers among clients who often can’t speak, according to CISA executive director Mary McGlauchlen.
In a 30-page ruling, Mills said he agreed with the three nonprofits that they would “suffer irreparable harm” through the new contracts.
An estimated 6,500 people with intellectual disabilities in 48 counties, including the Peoria area and other parts of central Illinois, western Illinois, suburban Chicago and the Rockford area, would potentially lose their current caseworkers.
CISA, which lost the right in the new system to continue serving Peoria, Tazewell, Woodford and McLean counties, would lose one-third of its Medicaid funding and staff.
CISA’s nine-county area would change to 17 counties — with many of the new counties different from those served by the agency for decades — on July 1 and beyond.
DayOne also would lose state funding and focus on other services for clients, while WISC would be put out of business by the new contracts.
Mills said in his ruling that individual clients “would likely suffer harm,” as well. He said lawyers for the state “claim this concern is speculative, but there is little question that there is a basis to believe that some harm would result — at least in the short term.”
However, Mills sided with the state that independent service-coordination agencies such as CISA are not Medicaid providers because they look out for clients’ best interests as part of contracts with the state.
Because the groups aren’t technically providers, Mills said, the groups aren’t likely to succeed in their overall claim that clients have a federally mandated right to choose which service-coordination agencies to use.
Hunt disagreed, saying federal law regarding Medicaid “spells it out pretty straightforwardly” that the three nonprofits should be treated as Medicaid providers.
Mills also wasn’t persuaded by the three nonprofits’ argument that the state violated the law by bypassing the traditional rule-making process in putting the new system in place.
The judge did criticize the state for the lack of a transition for clients.
“It goes without saying that this process could have been handled better by the state,” Mills wrote. “Moreover, it appears there has been little, if any, coordination between the various independent service-coordination agencies to ease the transition for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities who are served by these agencies. The court is certainly hopeful that there are no disruptions in service.”
Contact Dean Olsen: email@example.com, 788-1543, twitter.com/DeanOlsenSJR.