Haymarket Center sues Itasca after village rejects treatment center proposal

Chicago’s largest nonprofit mental health and substance abuse treatment center alleges Itasca officials and some residents were “intentionally discriminatory” when they thwarted its expansion efforts into the northwest suburb.

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Dan Lustig, president and CEO of the Haymarket Center speaks about the filing of a lawsuit against the Village of Itasca’s following the rejection of a comprehensive treatment center during a press conference outside of the Access Living offices at 115 West Chicago Ave in Near North, Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022.

Dan Lustig, president and CEO of the Haymarket Center, talks about a lawsuit against Itasca after it rejected a treatment center.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Chicago’s largest nonprofit mental health and substance abuse treatment center is suing Itasca alleging village officials and some residents were “intentionally discriminatory” when they thwarted its expansion efforts into the northwest suburb.

In a lawsuit filed Tuesday, Haymarket Center accused Itasca of violating federal civil rights laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act, when it denied the creation of a 240-bed treatment facility at the site of a former hotel.

“The intentional and orchestrated discriminatory conduct across Itasca’s key governmental entities is designed to interfere with the rights of Haymarket Center, the people with disabilities it serves, and their families,” said Mary Rosenberg, an Access Living senior attorney who’s part of the team representing Haymarket Center. “The concerted actions to delay and refuse operation of Haymarket Center’s health care facility have had, and will continue to have, devastating consequences to people in need of treatment for substance use disorders.”

A spokesperson for Itasca said they don’t comment on pending litigation.

Haymarket Center’s initial proposal in 2019 to build a large rehab facility that would provide full continuum care for adults 18 and older in Itasca was met with pushback from village officials and residents, who worried the treatment center would cause an increase in crime, exhaust its emergency medical services and affect tax revenue.

The 84-page suit accused Itasca officials and residents of pulling “their forces together” to “drive out Haymarket and the people with disabilities.” They did this by holding an organized march in September 2019, creating a Facebook page called “No Haymarket Itasca” and displaying “No Haymarket” signs in their yards, according to the lawsuit.

“Defendants strategically fostered, intentionally contributed to, and were unduly negatively influenced by this ‘not in my backyard’ opposition,” the lawsuit alleged.

The suit claims this was done out of “discriminatory stereotyping of Haymarket’s mission and the patients it would serve.”

Haymarket Center claims it had tried to find common ground with Itasca over certain concerns, such as the facility’s impact on the village’s emergency medical services. Haymarket Center agreed to contract private ambulance companies to serve its center, which was proposed to be built on a 7-acre property at 860 W. Irving Park Road.

However, after a bitter two-year battle and 35 hearings, Itasca’s Village Board unanimously voted against Haymarket Center’s plan in November.

The board’s decision sparked Haymarket Center to file its lawsuit in the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of Illinois. The nonprofit is seeking “reasonable accommodations” for the opening of its facility as well as unspecified compensation and punitive damages.

U.S. Attorney John Lausch launched an investigation last month into the village’s decision to reject the center and whether it was in line with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found more than 1 million people have died of drug overdoses since 1999. Last year saw a record high of fatal overdoses as the nation saw an estimated 100,000 people die — a 30% increase over the prior year.

In DuPage County, where Haymarket Center proposed its newest treatment center, 112 people died from an overdose in 2020, a 17% jump from the previous year.

In a statement ahead of Tuesday morning’s news conference outside Access Living, Haymarket Center President and CEO Dan Lustig noted that the stigma around substance abuse is one of the “biggest hurdles” his team faces in addressing the issue.

“It prevents those who need it from getting treatment and stands in the way of making more life-saving treatment available,” he said. “Expanding immediate access to care for people with substance use disorders regardless of ability to pay has been Haymarket Center’s mission for more than 46 years. We are committed to bringing a new comprehensive treatment center to a region that faces a significant lack of treatment beds and programs while the need for these services continues to rise.” 

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