Jul 10, 2024

A landmark decision creates new opportunities for independence for thousands of Massachusetts residents in nursing homes - and draws on the work of inspiring disability rights leaders who have led us to this moment.

I often think of summer as a time to catch my breath. The busy-ness of work and personal obligations slows down once the Legislative session ends, and the hot, humid days give me space to reconnect with those things that matter most. Not just what work needs to be done in the next few months – but why it matters.

Of course, July means Independence Day, too – a cause for celebration! This year, especially, the idea of independence is poignant and meaningful on many levels. To begin with, I am celebrating the landmark agreement reached in the class action lawsuit Marsters v. Healey, which was filed on behalf of individuals with disabilities, including mental health disabilities, who are living in nursing homes but able to live in the community with support.

Under the settlement agreement signed by the court on June 17, Massachusetts will inform nursing home residents about opportunities to live in more integrated, community settings; provide case management and other transitional support; and create new residential settings and services to support at least 2,400 individuals to make the transition to new homes in the community. For thousands of people with disabilities across the Commonwealth, this level of independence is a dream come true. You can learn more about the Marsters settlement agreement in this Boston Globe article.

The Marsters decision relied greatly on the promises of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which celebrates its 34th anniversary on July 26, and the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Olmstead v. L.C. nine years later. In that case, the Supreme Court held that people with disabilities, including mental health disabilities, have a right to receive services in community rather than institutional settings, when the individual’s treatment professionals agree that is appropriate.

The lead plaintiffs in the Olmstead case, Lois Curtis and Elaine Wilson, took full advantage of the independence afforded to them after being discharged from a state psychiatric hospital in Georgia. They spent time doing ordinary things in their homes and embracing their roles as civil rights trailblazers. Lois became a successful artist, whose work was displayed at the White House and local galleries in Georgia before her death in 2022.

Lois Curtis

Caption Lois Curtis, lead plaintiff in the U.S. Supreme Court decision Olmstead v. L.C., shares her artwork.

Closer to home, Linda Glenn was a pioneer in making community living a reality for tens of thousands of people who were once stuck in public institutions in Massachusetts and New York, as well as Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Nebraska, and beyond. In 1635, Sir Isaac Newton wrote, "If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants." Linda was the giant upon whose shoulders I've stood for decades in service and in friendship. I am grateful for her pointing the way, mentoring with wisdom, sharing her heart for serving people, strategizing change that endures, and being so kind. Her generosity of spirit and caring, and ambition for solving the needs of others inspired and sustains me and so many others.

This summer, as I take a breath to take in what matters most in our work, I reflect on the meaning of independence for thousands of individuals with disabilities across the Commonwealth. At MAMH, we work to ensure that every individual has what they need to reach their potential in life, to be able to access their hopes and dreams for a full and meaningful life. That is independence, and that is worthy of celebration all year long.

With gratitude,

Danna

Linda Glenn
“Linda Glenn was the giant upon whose shoulders I've stood for decades in service and in friendship.”

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