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Kadner: Hospital sale should help mentally ill

Tinley Park Mental Health Center Tinley Park Illinois Friday June 29 2012.  | Joseph P. Meier~Sun-Times Medi

Tinley Park Mental Health Center in Tinley Park, Illinois, Friday, June 29, 2012. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: May 9, 2014 6:19AM



Nearly half of any money generated from the sale of the shuttered Tinley Park Mental Health Center would have to be spent for mental health services in the Southland under legislation proposed by state Sen. Mike Hastings.

Under current law, the proceeds from the sale of any state-owned mental health center could be spent at the discretion of the Department of Human Services, Hastings, D-Orland Hills, said.

Under Senate Bill 822, sponsored by Hastings, “at minimum 40 percent of the resulting net proceeds (of the sale of a closed mental health facility) shall be made exclusively in the facility’s geographical area.”

Mark Heyrman, a clinical law professor at the University of Chicago and chairman of public policy for Mental Health America-Illinois, helped negotiate the language of the bill.

Heyrman said without the change in existing law, all the money from the eventual sale of the Tinley Park property could be used for capital improvements at other state mental health centers.

Constructed in 1958, the mental health campus covers 213 acres at 183rd Street and Harlem Avenue, adjacent to 62 acres once occupied by the state-owned Howe Developmental Center. The property is considered prime for development because it is located a few blocks north of Interstate 80 and about a mile away from two Metra train stations.

However, Tinley Park Mayor Ed Zabrocki has said that commercial interest in the land is less than it once was due to the Great Recession and property being in Cook County — on the north side of 183rd Street, which is the border there between Cook and Will counties. The property tax on businesses is much higher than in Will County.

When the Tinley Park Mental Health Center was closed by the state in 2012, there was an outpouring of opposition by mental health advocates who claimed that private hospitals, law enforcement and community mental health organizations would be overwhelmed by the flood of psychiatric patients hitting the streets.

State officials promised to channel money targeted for the operation of the mental health hospital to community organizations so they could beef up their staffs.

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, however, has blamed the closing of Tinley Park, along with the closing of mental health clinics in Chicago, for an upsurge in Cook County Jail inmates suffering from mental ailments. Dart has estimated that nearly one-third of the more than 10,000 people in the jail are being treated for mental illness.

While I feel Hastings’ bill is well-intentioned, I don’t think it goes far enough.

I would have liked to have seen every penny from the sale of the Tinley Park Mental Health Center placed in an interest-bearing trust fund to be distributed to organizations that help the mentally ill in the Southland.

Remember, when the land is sold, which could be years from now, it will be a one-time-only cash infusion to a state in financial crisis.

While mandating that 40 percent of the funds be spent in the Southland is a nice concept, I can’t help thinking about how the state played games with the lottery money that was designed to boost education funding.

State agencies and state legislators know how much money is due to the state budget from all sources. Using that knowledge, they basically allocate what they deem necessary, or adequate, for programs.

If they know, for example, that they’re going to get $10 million for the sale of land in a given year to benefit mental health programs, they can simply shift millions of dollars that would have otherwise gone to mental health programs in the Southland to programs in other areas of the state.

The result, no net increase in funds for the Southland or a much smaller increase than might have been anticipated. Yes, that’s a cynical attitude but one based on years of observation.

For example, when the Tinley Park Mental Health Center closed, the state said it would shift funds to the community health providers, but the state based that financial help on its most recent cost of running Tinley Park.

The state had been cutting Tinley Park’s funding for years, so by the end it was operating with a skeleton staff and had less than half the patients it once had.

But mental illness in the Southland had not declined. The state was simply saving money at the expense of the mentally ill.

Long before Illinois experienced its current financial crisis, it ranked nearly last in the nation in its support of programs for the mentally ill and developmentally disabled. It has also ranked near the bottom of the nation for years in financial support for public education.

Where did all that money go?

I never have gotten a straight answer, but I believe it ended up in the pockets of major contractors who were buddies of our corrupt governors.

So it’s in that context that I am forced to view Hastings’ legislation, which at least assures that some of the money from the sale of Tinley Park will end up helping people in our area.

During state hearings on the closing of the center, the former chief executive of South Suburban Hospital testified that mentally ill patients could wait for days in that hospital’s emergency room for a psychiatric bed to become available somewhere in the area. South Suburban has no psychiatric beds.

State officials promised to address that issue after the Tinley Park center was closed by providing a 24-hour ombudsmen at local ERs to quickly identify mental patients and locate available psych beds.

But South Suburban Hospital officials told me little has changed in the last two years.

Last month, a psychiatric patient was brought into the hospital’s emergency department about 3 a.m. on a Saturday and stayed there until he was transferred to an appropriate facility the following Thursday afternoon, about 130 hours, a hospital spokesman said.

Closing Tinley Park was certain to make a bad situation worse. But state officials knew that when they closed the hospital.



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