Kadner: A vote on mental health care funding in Cook County?
By Phil Kadner firstname.lastname@example.org July 21, 2014 8:42PM
Tinley Park Mental Health Center in Tinley Park, Illinois, Friday, June 29, 2012. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun-Times Media
Updated: August 23, 2014 6:24AM
Cook County Commissioner Elizabeth Doody Gorman (R-Orland Park) wants to place a referendum on the November ballot asking voters if they want to increase funding for mental health care.
Gorman said she will ask the county board to vote on the referendum Wednesday.
“This is an issue that affects everyone in some way,” Gorman told me. “Everyone knows someone who is suffering from a mental illness, or is abusing drugs as a way to self-medicate due to a mental illness.”
The proposed referendum reads, “Shall the General Assembly of the State of Illinois appropriate additional funds to provide necessary mental health services for the people of the State of Illinois?”
Gorman noted that the National Alliance on Mental Illness ranked Illinois fourth in the nation in cutting funding for mental health care, with $187 million in cuts between 2009 and 2012.
Half of Chicago’s 12 mental health care facilities have been closed by the state, Gorman stated in a news release.
In addition, the state closed the Tinley Park Mental Health Center.
Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart has said that as a result of the state cuts in mental health care funding, Cook County Jail has become the largest mental health hospital in Illinois, with nearly one-third of the jail’s residents diagnosed with some form of mental illness.
I have been writing about the underfunding of mental health care for several years now, but the fact is that the state, county and Chicago have all been battling financial problems and cutting financial aid to this area creates little in the way of political fallout.
I asked Gorman, a vocal supporter of Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner, how her support for increased social service funding by the state can coexist with Ruaner’s campaign to cut government spending.
“We all know there is plenty of pork and waste in the state budget,” Gorman said.
“Just one example is Gov. (Pat) Quinn’s Neighborhood Recovery Initiate, which is under federal investigation,” Gorman said.
“That’s $54 million right there and even half of that, if spent on mental health care, might have made a huge difference in the youth crime rate.”
Gorman said Quinn’s program was aimed at reducing teenage crime and a recent study by the university of Chicago “suggests that the majority of youth involved with the criminal justice system experience at least one psychiatric disorder.”
Gorman said her initiative to put the referendum on the ballot in November is supported by Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.
While the referendum would be only advisory, not binding, I think it could be a huge first step in educating the public on the extent of the problem.
Hospital officials in the south suburbs have said that patients suffering from mental illness sometimes wait days in their emergency rooms for a psychiatric bed to open somewhere in the area.
The number of psychiatric beds in private hospitals has been reduced in the past decade, even as state facilities and local mental health care centers have closed.
Gorman deserves praise for lending her support to a cause that has generated very little interest among elected officials, with the exception of Dart.
In her news release, Gorman states, “It’s important that we not lose sight of the significant impact state funding cuts have had at the local levels. It’s time for Springfield to get its financial priorities in order but not at the expense of those people who are most in need, especially in the are of mental health care.”
But the fact is that Republicans have opposed making permanent a 5 percent state income tax and as that tax hike begins to roll back in January, the state stands to lose billions of dollars in revenue.
Rauner, who previously had called for rolling the state income tax back to 3 percent, recently said he’s in favor of phasing the tax hike back over four years.
In my eyes, that’s an acknowledgement that no governor can maintain essential state services once the temporary state income tax expires.
Quinn has been adamant that if the income tax begins to roll back, state education and other social service programs will face massive budget cuts.
It’s easy to say you want to see the “waste” and “pork” cut out of government spending.
Who doesn’t want that?
But in actuality, there have been billions of dollars cuts from state program in recent years and the pork never goes away.
It’s services like mental health care that feel the brunt of the cuts in state spending.
Rauner also recently has said he wants to freeze property taxes.
I don’t even know what that means.
Does he want to freeze property tax rates? Does he want to freeze the levies of local school districts, library boards and municipalities?
I mention this because it’s all of apiece.
Even Republicans, who want to cut budgets, understand that you need money to pay for important programs that provide valuable services for people.
Even Democrats, who advocate increased government spending on social service programs, complain about their taxes.
What people really want, it seems to me, is lots of stuff at no cost.
Of course, people would also like to see their government run honestly, a goal that seems like an impossible dream here in Illinois.
Gorman is right to demand improved government funding for mental health care. The state’s negligence borders on criminal neglect.
If her effort to put a referendum on the ballot is successful at Wednesday’s Cook County board meeting, it will be interesting to see how voters feel about the issue.
Most of my readers express outrage when they’ve read about the issue in my column.
But there has been no voter rebellion. The only candidate for governor who mentioned the issue during the recent primary election was state Sen. Kirk Dillard, another Republican from Hinsdale.
We are forcing the mentally ill to wander the streets. We are sheltering them in jails.
It’s a disgrace.