The state budget crisis is about to claim another victim at the risk of nearly 2,000 people and a few hundred jobs. The Tinley Park Mental Health Center sits on Governor Pat Quinn’s chopping block as soon as November 30.
The center is the only publicly available psychiatric hospital in the Southland area, encompassing southern Cook County as well as northern Will County, serving 1,900 individuals in severe mental crisis each year. This is up nine percent over the last five years and the facility is currently operating above state capacity limits.
An AFSCME Council 31 study contends the area needs the health center due to the recent closures of Oak Forest Hospital and the Howe Developmental Center. In 2009, the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability concluded the facility could not be closed until a replacement was opened up in the area. As of now there is still no such replacement. The Illinois Mental Health Summit calls the plan "illegal, unwise and inhumane," adding that it "will deny treatment to persons desperately in need, causing suffering to persons with mental illnesses and their families."
“DHS makes clear there are going to be fewer services,” said AFSCME public policy director Anne Irving. “State hospitals have always been a refuge.. Tinley provides short-term, acute needs.” According to Irving the average stay is about 14 days to meet the needs of the patients.
Tinley Park has been giving after care to patients for thirty plus years stated Barbara Foster, Tinley Park MHC activity therapist and president of AFSCME Local 1591. The services include access to a counselor, medicine and more.
“Governor simply wants to close the place down due to the budget,” said Foster. “[The] state is supposed to be taking care of the mentally ill instead of shipping them off the forensic units. They are not going to save any money, but shift it for forensic beds.”
Due to the public stigma of mental illness and privacy laws, it is often difficult to put a face to the affected population. Advocates with best intentions are often left to fight the public battle for funding and significance. Just this last year, state funding for ten outpatient providers in the Southland region were cut by $32 million.
"Our patients would be walking the streets, they would be in the jails. One said I’d be in jail," recalled Foster. "He drinks and when he does he gets violent. [He said,] 'usually the police take me to the hospital, but if this place closes, they’d take me to jail.'"
More than 200 employees at the Tinley Park Mental Health Center would lose their jobs, which, according to estimates, would result in $50.5 million in lost economic activity and, eventually, 158 additional jobs. The closing could further decimate the Southland region and push people out of jobs they have held for years.