Settlement may lead to more housing for disabled

A settlement reached this week in a civil-rights lawsuit between a group of disabled San Franciscans and The City could change the way patients are rehabilitated back into the community.

The preliminary settlement — announced in a news release sent out Tuesday by the Department of Public Health — requires The City to provide 500 units of accessible housing over the next five years, so patients ready to be released from Laguna Honda Hospital and Rehabilitation Center can find a place to live with the services they need, a requirement under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The case stems from a lawsuit filed in October 2006 that included more than 1,000 plaintiffs. The first named plaintiff, Mark Chambers, said Tuesday that he was delighted to hear that he would be given an opportunity to “live in the world.”

According to the complaint, Chambers, 48, entered Laguna Honda in 1999. He spent more than six years rehabilitating from a traumatic brain injury and a seizure disorder. After adapting to his wheelchair and computerized communication device, he and his caretakers felt it was time to move out of the isolated hospital.

Chambers was “desperate” to leave and take up photography and astronomy again, but there was nowhere for him to go, he said.

The preliminary settlement requires the approval of the Baord of Supervisors, the Health Commission and the court.

“There’s not a whole lot of disagreement,” Marc Slavin with Laguna Honda said. “Everyone agrees that increasing opportunities for independent living is a good thing.”

According to Slavin, the outpatient program will actually cost The City less. After federal and statefunding, The City pays about $1,000 per month. Taking care of the same patient costs The City three times that much at Laguna Honda, Slavin said.

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