By Ashley Griffin
Opponents of Gov. Pat Quinn's plan to close two state mental health centers say the money-saving move could lead to other problems.
In an effort to reduce state spending, Quinn announced during Wednesday’s budget address his plan to close the Tinley Park Mental Health Center and the Singer Mental Health Center in Rockford. The announcement to close the two facilities is part of a larger plan that includes cutting or consolidating about 60 other state facilities in hopes of saving $425 million and eliminating 1,160 jobs.
The governor’s office cited numerous factors in determining which facilities to close, included the age of the facility, the level of quality care and the economic impact on the areas. No plan has been released on what will happen to patients at the centers.
Some lawmakers are not happy with the proposed cuts.
“It will have a devastating affect on Rockford. At this point if it closes there is no place for them to go,” said Sen. Dave Syverson, a Republican from Rockford whose district contains the Singer center.
“You are taking a hatchet approach to human service. It's not the appropriate way. It ends up disturbing families, disturbing communities, and instead of that we need to be looking at doing a complete review of the services in Illinois.
According to Svyerson, he believes instead of closing the Singer center, a partnership should be formed with the private sector to help lessen the costs at Singer.
Several other lawmakers said they do no support the closings without a plan of action.
“He’s [Quinn] got to realize that he creates some obstacle for us when he attacks state employees the way he did in today’s budget, by forcing surprise closures of these facilities that no one knows how we are going to manage. That will create some obstacles for us,” said Sen. Bill Brady, a Republican from Bloomington who also serves on Quinn’s working group on employee pension reform.
Illinois is not the only state making significant cuts from their mental health programs. According to a report released last March by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Illinois ranked fourth in the most cuts in general funds from their mental health budget between 2009-2011, trimming $113.7 million.
A November report from NAMI states: “In Illinois, a state that has cut $187 million from its mental health budget in recent years, three of the state’s nine psychiatric hospitals are slated to close. Up to 5,000 children and adults with serious mental illness could be cut off from needed services. The situation has gotten so bad that Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart announced in May 2011 that he was considering filing a lawsuit against the state, “accusing it of allowing the jail to essentially become a dumping ground for people with serious mental health problems.”
Both reports found that massive cuts to health services could have a negative impact on public safety because some people with serious mental illnesses can be more violent than the rest of the population.
Greg Sullivan, executive director for the Illinois Sheriff’s Association, also agrees that losing the mental health facilities is not a good idea. People with mental illnesses should receive the proper treatment, he said, and if they don’t, there could be negative consequences.
“These people are not criminals. They need treatment. … It's going to be a huge problem if these facilities close,” Sullivan said.
“If we did this to a heart patient who needed treatment, we would be sued.”
Both centers found themselves on the chopping block a year ago, but in a dramatic last-minute save from the legislature's bipartisan Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability that heard testimony from various interest groups, funds were provided to keep the facilities open for the reminder of the current fiscal year.
The Tinley Park center, which operates as an acute care center that usually admits patients for 21 days, has a 75-bed capacity and 195 staff. The cost to operate it is $19.8 million, and the closure date is set for July 2.
At the Singer center, the operating cost is $14 million. Its bed capacity is 76, with a staff of 176. The closure date is set for October 31.