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Kadner: State turns its back on the needs of the mentally ill

Updated: March 9, 2012 8:15AM



Hearings won’t be held in the Southland on the closing of the Tinley Park Mental Health Center.

Last October, hundreds of people packed a banquet room at Georgios Comfort Inn in Orland Hills for a legislative hearing on the closing of the mental hospital.

Former patients, their relatives, mental health experts from Will County and local hospital officials were among those who opposed Gov. Pat Quinn’s plan to close Tinley Park Mental Health Center.

And the closing was postponed.

But the governor has now set a July 1 shutdown date for the hospital, and the same legislative panel, the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability, is again holding mandated public hearings.

But this time the hearings are being held in Springfield. That pretty much assured that interested Southland residents couldn’t testify.

State health officials claim that closing Tinley Park’s mental hospital is a good thing because patients will be treated in community-based settings instead of an institution. That ignores the fact that many of the hospital’s patients are severely mentally ill and require inpatient treatment.

And while state officials imply that the government will improve and pay for treatment in community-based settings, when pressed they admit that they will spend less than half the $20 million the state will save from closing Tinley Park on that treatment.

When pressed further, they admit that even the $8.9 million the state plans to spend won’t all be spent on community treatment. Some will have to pay private hospitals for taking in the severely ill mental patients who can’t be treated in community settings.

At the last hearing, the one in Orland Hills, here’s what Michael Englehart, the president of South Suburban Hospital, had to say about that:

“We don’t have the capabilities (to treat mental patients),” he said. “All we’re doing is triaging and trying to calm the patient down. We’re not advancing the care for these patients. We truly are not. We don’t have the capabilities nor the skill set to provide the services.”

Patients diagnosed with a mental illness were waiting up to four days in South Suburban’s ER to be transferred to psychiatric beds in other hospitals.

Ingalls Memorial Hospital vice president Joe Moser explained that his hospital has no room for more mental patients if the Tinley Park center closes and has no ability to expand.

When I challenged state officials about the proposal to close Tinley Park Mental Health Center during a SouthtownStar editorial board meeting, it became clear that they knew mental health patients weren’t going to be getting better care.

The state has to cut its budget because it is billions of dollars in the red. The Tinley Park center is a casualty of that process.

And state health officials said they’re just trying to do the best they can with the resources made available to them.

Well, that’s just unacceptable. They should resign, if necessary, to make the point that mental health care should not be cut.

About 2,000 people are treated at Tinley Park each year. And the number of psychiatric beds has been reduced by nearly 1,000 over the past decades as the state has continued to cut reimbursement rates to doctors.

In fact, just last year the state again cut its reimbursement rates to psychiatrists who treat the mentally ill in community-based settings.

So the claim that state is only trying to shift to more modern, more effective, anti-institutional settings for the mentally ill is simply a lie. The state is just trying to ignore the needs of the mentally ill to save money.

And the legislative committee that’s supposed to allow for public input on crucial issues such as this one decided to hold its hearing in Springfield instead of the Southland.

I’ve made this statement before, but it is worth repeating: Cook County Jail has become the largest institution for the treatment of the mentally ill in Illinois. Do you think that’s really saving taxpayers money?

This is an election year. Call your state representative and state senator today and let him or her know if this is the way you want the state to save money.

The governor signed a law approving speed-enforcement cameras near Chicago schools and parks this week, saying that if the life of one child is saved, you save the world.

I guess the lives of the mentally ill don’t count.

I think they should.



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