Tinley Mayor: Health Center Has 'Checkered' Past But 'Always Served a Real Purpose'
Mayor Ed Zabrocki talked Wednesday about the center's "checkered history" and his standpoint on its potential closure. We took a look at the health center's shrinking budget and officials' lack of a plan for patients, should it close.
The grounds of the Tinley Park Mental Health Center haven't always looked so barren.
They used to be a hub of activity—a place Chicago Police Department officers routinely drove to unload paddy wagons filled with patients, Tinley Park Mayor Ed Zabrocki said.
"It was a zoo out there," he said Wednesday. "It's always served a real purpose. But it's had a real checkered history here in Tinley, a real checkered history."
He recalled a massive power failure at the facility in the '70s that forced the village to foot the bill for a large generator, and the housing of Hurricane Katrina victims in 2005.
"We actually had to set up security during that time to keep people out," Zabrocki said. "Residents kept showing up and taking Katrina victims to get dinners, or bringing them to the store to buy them clothes. Then, we didn't know where these people were."
Now on the chopping block under one of Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn's cost-saving measures, advocates are urging officials to keep the facility open. Green signs were posted Wednesday along its property line stating in large print, "Save Tinley Park" with "Mental Health Center" following in small print.
Though it once had room for 150 patients, the hospital now has a 75-bed capacity. It has two patient care units and an intake and assessment unit. Both treat patients from a geographic area that extends from the south side of Chicago, as well as all southern Cook townships and Will, Grundy and Kankakee counties.
The center dates back to 1958, when it was built on 213 acres adjacent to the 62-acre property that has since been vacated by the Howe Development Center—it closed up shop in 2009.
Operated by the Illinois Department of Human Services' Division of Mental Health, it's one of nine state-run hospitals that provide civil and forensic, court-remanded psychiatric care, IDHS spokesman Tom Green said Tuesday.
The other IDHS hospitals include Alton, Chicago-Read, Chester, Choate, Elgin, Madden, McFarland and Singer. All provide inpatient care regardless of patients' ability to pay. Department records show that 9,948 people were admitted to them in Fiscal Year 2011.
But being a state-run center is far from glamorous when Illinois' finances are in shambles—a fact that's been proven by the budget cuts made to the nine hospitals, including our local mental health center.
Gov. Pat Quinn introduced his plan to close seven state facilities, including the Tinley Park Mental Health Center, in early September as part of a cost-savings measure.
The closures would lay off about 1,900 workers, 200 of whom are employed at the local center. It's not the first time the Tinley health center has been on the state's radar. In fact, it's already endured budget cuts.
In FY2011, the center was operating on a $20.4 million budget. That amount has been cut in half for FY2012, according to a news release sent from the IDHS.
That's not all. The budget for the entire nine-hospital system is under fire, which is among factors prompting Quinn's closures, officials said Tuesday at a hearing on the matter.
"The FY2012 budget for DHS does not provide enough money in personnel and state operations budget lines to run the nine (hospitals) for an entire year," the release said. "The DHS hospital operations budget was cut by $58 million, or approximately 25 percent, compared to FY2011."
The total shortfall is about $140 million, officials said.
"The closing of DHS facilities is a necessary step in managing the budget and the shortfall in the personnel and operations lines," according to the release.
A Plan Without a Plan
Supporters of keeping the Tinley Park Mental Health Center open had a major qualm Tuesday for officials wanting to close it—there's no plan, they said, for what comes next.
Asked to name specific facilities willing to absorb displaced patients should the local center close, IDHS director of mental health Lorrie Rickman Jones said, "we're prepared to take that next step."
That's a crucial step in the eyes of residents, family members of those treated at the center, and local officials, including Zabrocki.
"You start getting into this issue and it's like a morass. It's a swamp," he said. "Believe it or not, there was a plan at some point to take care of some of these patients."
He doesn't know of one now, though, he said, which is his primary concern. Sure, the village would be interested in the land there, he admitted, but "not unless these people have some place to go."
"Once that is done, then our stance is, 'Fine, let's talk about closing the hospital,'" Zabrocki said. "But we don't want to talk about it until we get to that point. We really don't."
The Illinois Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability returns to Springfield next week for the legislative veto session, when it's scheduled to vote on whether to close the Tinley Park Mental Health Center.
Check back in with Patch throughout the week for more coverage of Quinn's proposal to close the center. If you'd like us to let you know when we publish more info about it, click the green "keep me posted" button immediately below this story.