The Haymarket Center on Tuesday filed a federal discrimination complaint against the village of Itasca, claiming elected officials violated civil rights laws by denying the association’s request to open a center for the treatment and recovery of blood drug addiction in the county town of DuPage.
The lawsuit opens a new legal front in a two-and-a-half-year controversy over the project. After more than 35 public hearings, Itasca administrators unanimously rejected Haymarket’s proposal in November to turn a closed Holiday Inn into a 240-bed rehabilitation center.
The complaint describes the board’s decision as “intentionally discriminatory, arbitrary, capricious, baseless and unreasonable”. The lawsuit also names Mayor Jeffrey Pruyn, the Itasca Planning Commission, Itasca Fire Protection District, Itasca Elementary School District 10 and Superintendent Craig Benes as defendants.
The complaint alleges that officials violated the Fair Housing Act and other laws that give people with substance use disorders the same rights as people with disabilities.
Federal prosecutors have also launched a separate investigation to determine whether the village is in violation of anti-discrimination laws.
Village officials did not immediately return requests for comment.
From the start, Haymarket faced an uphill battle in his second attempt to deliver treatment services within DuPage to help fight the scourge of opioid addiction. In 2020, 112 people died from opioid overdoses at DuPage, a dismal record and a 17% increase from the 96 reported in 2019.
Almost four years ago, Haymarket, a Chicago-based supplier, was turned down an offer to start a 16-bed satellite program at Wheaton.
But Haymarket met strong resistance in Itasca.
Resident opposition group argued the facility would put a strain on police and fire emergency services, despite assurances from Haymarket that it would contract with a private ambulance supplier to manage, at a minimum, the basic resuscitation calls generated by the establishment. Haymarket has also committed to contract with an additional private ambulance company if required.
“The biggest barrier we face in tackling substance use disorders is stigma – it prevents those in need from getting treatment and hinders the availability of more life-saving treatment.” Haymarket President and CEO Dan Lustig said in a statement announcing the lawsuit. “Expanding immediate access to care for people with substance use disorders, regardless of their ability to pay, has been the mission of the Haymarket Center for over 46 years. We are committed to creating a full new treatment center in an area that faces a significant shortage of treatment beds and programs as the need for these services continues to increase.
Access Living, a disability rights organization, represents Haymarket in court. The group raised the issue of ADA compliance in a June 2020 letter to village prosecutors. Two attorneys for Access Living said Haymarket should have been allowed to apply for a special use permit to operate as a healthcare facility.
Instead, Itasca officials saw the project as a request for planned development, arguing that the proposed use of the property represented mixed residential and medical use.
“The intentional and orchestrated discriminatory conduct in key government entities in Itasca is designed to interfere with the rights of the Haymarket Center, the people with disabilities it serves and their families,” said Senior Counsel for Access Living, Mary Rosenberg, in a statement. “The concerted actions to delay and deny the functioning of the Haymarket Center healthcare facility have had and will continue to have devastating consequences for those in need of treatment for substance use disorders.”
The mayor of Itasca made his first detailed comments on Haymarket’s plans by reading a statement prepared before the board of directors voted against the project.
“At first it was clear that the potential financial burden from Haymarket would be heavy on Itasca,” said Pruyn.
There was also talk of soliciting state subsidies to ease the potential financial burden on the village. But the mayor said Itasca could not count on “unknown dollars”.
“It was clear to elected officials, county officials and local officials,” said Pruyn, “that one of the smaller communities was going to have to absorb 100% of the costs, risks, and burden of maintaining d ‘a facility that would accept residents beyond Itasca. “