Haymarket sues Itasca over village's rejection of addiction rehab center
Haymarket Center filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday against the village of Itasca, claiming officials violated civil rights laws by rejecting plans for an addiction treatment and recovery facility in the DuPage County town.
The lawsuit challenges the village's decision and calls on a federal judge to allow Haymarket to move forward with what advocates say is a desperately needed rehab center.
After two years and more than 35 public hearings, Itasca trustees in November unanimously voted against the proposal for a 240-bed facility at the site of a former Holiday Inn.
The lawsuit accuses officials of caving to "discriminatory community opposition." Social media posts and emails to the village "revealed the bias residents harbored against people with substance use disorder," the lawsuit states.
"This little area will become a ghetto," one undated message attached to the lawsuit reads.
"Our town will never be the safe, small town that it is right now with kids riding their bikes freely," someone said in another public comment included in the complaint. "You may think I'm being dramatic or exaggerating. I am not. ... It's like bringing death to Itasca."
The suit also names as defendants Mayor Jeff Pruyn, the Itasca plan commission, Itasca Fire Protection District, Itasca Elementary School District 10 and Superintendent Craig Benes.
It alleges officials violated the Fair Housing Act and other laws that prohibit discrimination against people with disabilities, including individuals in treatment for substance use and mental health disorders.
"We're not trying to bully our way into this. We're trying to provide care," Haymarket President and CEO Dan Lustig said in an interview after the suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago.
Benes said the school district would not comment on the lawsuit Tuesday. Village Administrator Carie Anne Ergo said via email the village does not comment on pending litigation.
The lawsuit asks for an unspecified amount of compensatory and punitive damages in addition to attorney's fees.
Federal prosecutors also have launched a separate investigation into whether the village ran afoul of anti-discrimination laws.
From nearly the start, Haymarket faced an uphill battle in its second attempt at providing treatment services within DuPage to help combat opioid addiction, with residents citing concerns about lost tax revenue and strained services.
Nearly 2,000 people in DuPage and the collar counties were patients at Haymarket Chicago, one of the region's largest providers, from 2017-2018.
"When you look at the Western suburbs, there's an incredible shortage of treatment beds," Lustig said. "And there's an incredible shortage of treatment beds for the Medicaid population."
Almost four years ago, Haymarket was denied a bid to start a smaller, 16-bed satellite program in one of those Western suburbs. Haymarket did not bring forth litigation over the Wheaton City Council's decision, reached in only a matter of months after the project was first proposed.
"The difference between ... Wheaton to Itasca was the length of time and the more kind of discriminatory nature that this case took on over the last two years," Lustig said.
In Itasca, Haymarket encountered heavy resistance. An anti-Haymarket group formed by residents insisted the facility would cost the town tax revenue, hurt property values and strain police and fire emergency services.
Residents rallied before public hearings, posted yard signs, wore matching "small town proud" T-shirts and created a "No Haymarket Itasca" Facebook page.
The 84-page lawsuit argues officials "strategically fostered, intentionally contributed to, and were unduly negatively influenced by this 'not in my backyard' opposition."
It also accuses officials of "discriminatory stereotyping" of patients who would be served by Haymarket. In July 2019, Pruyn publicly issued a series of questions to Haymarket that "reflected and spread negative stereotypes" about prospective patients, according to the complaint.
Most of those questions, the lawsuit says, "concerned security, including whether patients at Haymarket DuPage would be allowed to leave the property while in treatment, how many security staff would be employed, whether security staff would be armed, and whether Haymarket DuPage intended to build a fence around the property."
Residents contended that the facility would overburden emergency medical services in the town of about 9,000. The Itasca Fire Protection District has one ambulance.
Itasca's mayor echoed those concerns reading a prepared statement before the board voted against the project.
"Early on, it was clear the potential financial burden of Haymarket would be heavy on Itasca," Pruyn said.
There also was talk of seeking grant money from the state. But the mayor said Itasca could not count on "unknown dollars."
"It was clear to state elected officials, county elected officials and local officials," Pruyn said, "that one of the smallest communities was going to have to absorb 100% of the cost, risk and burden of servicing a facility that would be accepting residents beyond Itasca."
Haymarket pledged to contract with the second-largest private ambulance company in Illinois to respond to basic life support calls. Haymarket also said that it would contract with an additional private ambulance company if needed.
Access Living, a disability rights organization, is representing Haymarket in court. The group raised the issue of compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act in a June 2020 letter to village attorneys. At the time, Access Living attorneys said Haymarket should have been allowed to seek a special-use permit to operate as a health care facility under village zoning ordinance.
Instead, Itasca officials classified the project as a planned development application, arguing the proposed use of the property represented a mixed use of residential and medical.
"As a result, Haymarket DuPage was held to a higher and more onerous standard than would have been required had it been allowed to apply for a special use as a health care facility," the lawsuit states.
Itasca also permitted the opposition group "a formal means to insert discriminatory and misleading information into the required zoning process," the lawsuit says.