Workers lament closure of Tinley Park Mental Health Center
BY STEVE METSCH firstname.lastname@example.org June 28, 2012 7:10PM
The Tinley Park Mental Health Center
Updated: July 30, 2012 6:14AM
One by one, employees at the Tinley Park Mental Health Center were filing out of a building near the end of a work day earlier this week, carrying their personal belongings.
One woman had a potted plant perched atop a cart. The plant fell off but appeared to be undamaged.
The same can’t be said for the feelings of longtime employees whose jobs are gone thanks to the state’s decision to close the 54-year-old facility at 7400 W. 183rd St.
About 2,000 people per year have been treated at Tinley Park, but Friday is the final day of treatment there for the six remaining patients, who will be relocated to other facilities in Chicago and a west suburban center.
Of the 155 state employees at Tinley Park, 103 took open positions elsewhere in state government, a Department of Human Services spokeswoman said Thursday. Forty-four declined job offers. Eight retired or had left before the closure plan was enacted.
One of those eight is activity therapist James LaBon, 62, of Bourbonnais. LaBon carried 38 years of memories, the past 29 in Tinley Park, to his car late Wednesday afternoon.
“I’m not angry. I am disappointed. I’d like to continue to work, but it just wasn’t meant to be. I know you can’t work forever,” he said.
He will miss coworkers and the patients. He worries about friends now unemployed. And he worries about the patients.
Asked if closing the center was bittersweet, LaBon said, “It’s more bitter. I would have liked to retire on my own terms. I continue to enjoy what I do, and I’m healthy. Why not keep working? You’re helping people here.”
LaBon is no fan of Gov. Pat Quinn, who pushed for the closing of Tinley Park and other mental health centers statewide in a cost-cutting move expected to save nearly $20 million annually.
“I am not a Pat Quinn supporter. I do understand his position about wanting to balance the budget, but you can’t balance it on the backs of state employees,” LaBon said.
Social worker Marva Taylor still has a job but is being moved to a state facility in Kankakee, about three miles from her home. She’ll do clerical work after 39 years as a social worker.
“The patients are hurt the most. They’ll be stacked up in hospital emergency rooms for days or forced out the door,” she said.
Psychiatrist Rich Bongard, of Olympia Fields, who has found work at Grand Prairie Services in Chicago Heights, shares her concern.
“They want to close all the mental health facilities in the state. The only one they want to keep open is the forensic facility,” Bongard said.
Asked why the state would do that, Bongard smiled and rubbed together his thumb, forefinger and middle finger.
“It’s all about the money. And those people don’t vote. They don’t have much say, so the state shuttles them around,” he said.
Kayce Ataiyero, a spokeswoman for the Department of Human Services, said the closures are “part of the comprehensive plan to improve services for people with mental health crises while minimizing taxpayer cost.
“In the event that there are patients who are not able to be discharged by July 2, those patients will be assessed and transferred to either Madden or Chicago Reed mental health centers based on their clinical needs,” she said.
Both are about 25 miles from Tinley Park. Commuting will be hard on some patients’ families, Bongard said.
Ataiyero said patients can find treatment at local hospitals or other locations.
“These services include community-based inpatient psychiatric care, crisis residential services and outpatient follow-up treatment. Services will be delivered by agencies and hospitals that have contracted with the state for the purpose of serving people with mental health needs in the area. The level of care to which people are referred is based on individual assessments,” she said.
About 60 people were evaluated in the first week of the plan and most were referred to community-based settings, she said.
The state hopes to eventually sell the land. But that may be difficult in the sluggish economy, Tinley Park Mayor Ed Zabrocki said. An extensive environmental cleanup is needed, he said.
“Who knows what’s back there? They had a power plant, a big garbage dump. Seven or eight years ago, I had 70 to 75 letters from developers interested in the site. Now I have none,” he said.