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People suffering from mental illness gain independence

Bill Paolell56 shows off his small dining arehis one-bedroom apartment where he now lives. He has decorated his apartment with

Bill Paolella, 56, shows off his small dining area in his one-bedroom apartment where he now lives. He has decorated his apartment with pictures he took before depression forced him into a nursing home.| Frank Abderholden~Sun-Times Media

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Williams Consent Decree

On September 29, 2010, the State of Illinois entered into a Consent Decree, settling the Williams vs. Quinn class action lawsuit, first filed in 2005 by Ethel Williams. The lawsuit alleged that Illinois was in violation of Title II of the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation

Act by needlessly segregating‖ Plaintiffs, a class of 4,500 Illinois residents with Serious Mental Illness (SMI) living in institutional settings (Institutes of Mental Disease1), and denying them opportunities to receive services in more integrated settings. Though the State denied liability and any violation of these federal laws, the state agreed it has an obligation to expand the current community-based service system to support the needs of those individuals.

The Williams Consent Decree enables qualifying individuals with mental illness to be moved from state-funded facilities into communities where they can live independently with professional support.

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Updated: October 6, 2013 2:36AM

A lawsuit against the state of Illinois resulted in a consent decree in 2010 that has helped over 50 people with mental illness move from a nursing home setting to independent living in apartments with the help of the Lake County Health Department’s behavioral health staff.

Known as the Williams Consent Decree, the state agreed to fund several county programs and Lake County received a five-year grant of $4.5 million to help people transition to living on their own.

“Those who can live on their own with support should be allowed to do so. We are grateful the state is moving in this direction,” said Dr. Ted Testa, who oversees the Health Department’s Behavioral Health Services programs.

Bill Paolella, 56, lived at the Lake Park Center nursing home for over 10 years after he had problems with depression, attempting suicide and spending time in the Elgin Mental Health Center.

Today he is showing off his tidy one bedroom where he has filled the walls with pictures he took before his mental illness put him the nursing home.

“I have a nice apartment,” he says. He shows off pictures of his family, a mother and sister he’s lost, a brother and his father, who worked for the secret service and is pictured with President John F. Kennedy.

“I was real happy,” he said of his move six months ago. “I’m so happy I left the nursing home. I was there a long time,” he said.

“I’m becoming more independent,” he said, admitting that the nursing home was nice in the fact they did everything for you.

Every day he drops in at the Lake County Health Department’s drop-in center where counselors and health specialists are there to help or talk.

There’s also a coffee shop and computers for filling out job applications and other uses.

When he arrives, he gets one of four medications he has to take four times a day.

He has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He shows a visitor the two scars on his neck from when he attempted suicide.

Then he shows off some new furniture and a new bedroom set.

His mother, Jane Anderson, recently died in her sleep at 82, but not before she got to share in her son’s accomplishment.

“She was happy for me,” he said. “I’m still recovering, but I’ve come a long way,” said Paolella, “I’m trying to find a job or volunteer.”

Darcell Rasmussen handles the program for the health department as the quality coordinator of the William Consent Decree. Her enthusiasm can be infectious as she explains the program during a Moving On Health Fair held recently at Waukegan’s Hinkston Park where 138 other other mentally ill people got to meet those who had transferred out of the nursing home and were now living independently.

“It is a program of recovery and empowerment,” said Rasmussen. The candidates come from three nursing home, Bayside Terrace and Lake Park Center, both in Waukegan, and the Abbott House in Highland Park.”They are there simply because they have mental health issues,” she said.

The first thing they did to launch this program was create the consumer-run drop-in center at 3002 Grand Ave., Waukegan. It is designed to provide a non-clinical environment for individuals to socialize, receive support from their peers and access computers.

The center is open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Mondays through Fridays and from noon to 3 p.m. on Saturdays.

The supervised building space includes a computer room, a café and a seating area with a big-screen television. Down the hall are offices for a team of mental health professionals who supervise the program.

To move out of an institution, an individual must have a mental health illness, be willing and able to move and accept the terms of the program, as well as have approval from his or her guardian, said Rasmussen.

The overall goal of the program is to move patients to permanent supportive housing where they will have full privacy. Candidates get support to continue their education or to get a job, as well as coaching from peers who have lived through similar experiences.

She is very proud of Brandon Schroeder, 22, who lives in an apartment in Zion and just got hired as a groundskeeper for Naval Station Great Lakes in North Chicago.

“We are so happy for him,” she said. He went into a nursing home at 19 after he was homeless and abusing substances. He would have anxiety attacks and angry outbursts that frightened his mother.

“I hope to go to school part-time online and study substance abuse and criminal justice,” he said. Rasmussen said they helped him through the whole job-hunting process, advising him when to make a follow-up call, getting him dressed appropriately for the interview and practicing with him before he went.

“How many time have you snapped in the last year,” Rasmussen asked him. He thought for a moment, “None I think,” he said, “That’s right, none,” she said..

Another client, Stefano Medansky, 27, of Park City ended up in a nursing home because he abused drugs and didn’t take his medication for his bipolar disorder.

“He’s had no critical incidents and no hospitalizations,” said Rasmussen.

He admits he can be “constantly hyper active,” but he has been working with the drop-in center and found comfort with the staff when his grandmother passed away. “I had full support of the center,” he said, “I have very good family connections.”

And that’s important, said Rasmussen. “They don’t always have family support because the family is exhausted,” she said.

Their number one focus is medication compliance, in which they get help from Walgreens. About 20 people now can be trusted to talk their own medications.

Next they set appointments for a dental and eye care visits, which most haven’t had in years. There is also a high incidence of Type 2 diabetes.

“One person is no longer insulin dependent. We teach them the importance of taking care of themselves,” she said.

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