Kadner: Tinley Park Mental Health Center is closing quietly
Phil Kadner email@example.com | (708) 633-6787 June 29, 2012 10:38PM
Maintenance and grounds workers remove boxes of office supplies from the administration building of the Tinley Park Mental Health Center as the process of closing the facility continues in Tinley Park, Illinois, Friday, June 29, 2012. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun-Times Media
Updated: August 2, 2012 10:25AM
The Tinley Park Mental Health Center officially closes Monday, but the place sure looked like it was already out of business Friday morning.
Employees were carrying out cardboard boxes full of records, and four vans were lined up in front of the hospital waiting to transport the last three patients to a new destination.
“I can’t allow you inside,” a hospital administrator said. “You have to get permission from the top guys.”
The “top guys” would eventually send word through a spokesman that SouthtownStar photographer Joe Meier and I would not be allowed into the hospital.
“There are still patients there,” I was told.
I replied that I had just been told the last three patients had left the building.
“We’re still not ready for you to go inside.”
Ready? To do what?
We wanted to take a look at the empty rooms. Maybe talk to a few employees about their last days on the job, their memories and their futures. Snap a few photographs of a janitor mopping the floors or maybe a nurse patrolling an empty hospital corridor.
I guess that might embarrass the governor, who decided to close the Tinley Park center to save money.
Gov. Pat Quinn ignored the wishes of the Legislature, which budgeted $10 million this spring to keep the facility open through the end of the year.
State Sen. Maggie Crotty (D-Oak Forest) issued a news release on Friday, urging “Gov. Quinn to sign budget with funding for Tinley Park.”
“Tinley Park is the only mental health facility in the region,” Crotty stated. “Its services cannot be replaced, especially at a time when state support for community health services has been cut by $32 million and private hospitals in the area are closing their inpatient mental health programs.”
Why Crotty would urge Quinn to approve the extra money when the state has stopped admitting new patients, transferred much of the staff and plans to close the place on Monday baffled me, but she failed to return a phone call seeking clarification.
Quinn obviously plans to use the money appropriated for the Tinley Park center to plug some other budget hole.
The patients who used Tinley Park will now be triaged by community-based mental health organizations. Hospital emergency rooms will be staffed by these groups, and evaluations will be done on where to send the mentally ill.
These are people with serious mental illness who do not have health insurance. These are also often people who have self-medicated with alcohol and street drugs.
These community-based mental health programs will receive some funding that would have previously been spent at Tinley Park but not all of it.
After all, the goal is to save money.
No one has estimated the cost to law enforcement agencies, which will have to deal with more mentally ill people roaming the streets and committing crimes. Or the cost to Cook County, whose jail has become the largest provider of mental health care in Illinois.
Grass and weeds are growing through the concrete and blacktop on the Tinley Park hospital grounds. The buildings, from the outside, look like they’ve been unused for years.
Illinois has been planning to close the mental institution for about a decade, and it shows.
There were once plans to build a new mental hospital to replace it, and then there were elaborate plans to spend a lot of money on top-notch community health care programs and facilities.
Those were all scrapped or delayed when people started to talk about the actual cost.
State Rep. Al Riley (D-Olympia Fields) said no one supported keeping the old hospital open indefinitely, but he and many others believe Illinois has rushed to close the Tinley Park center without sufficient planning to replace it.
There have been no public service announcements that I’m aware of about how the mentally ill will be treated or where they should be taken by friends, family members or strangers who encounter them.
“Mental Health America of Illinois is saddened that the (Illinois) Department of Human Services is going forward with its decision to close Tinley Park on Monday without a plan in place to provide adequate services for those persons with serious mental illnesses who use this facility every year,” stated Mark Heyrman, a board member with that agency, which has filed a lawsuit against the state.
I was told some of the Tinley Park patients have been taken to Pacific Gardens Mission in Chicago, a homeless shelter.
“They’re just dumping them on the streets,” a source said.
A security official with Pacific Gardens said that’s nothing new.
“We’ve always gotten patients from Tinley Park,” he said.