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With Tinley center closing, where will patients be housed?

Friday, April 14, 2006
Daily Southtown

THE ISSUE: State officials believe private local hospitals will be able to handle patients who in the past have been housed at the Tinley Park Mental Health Center.
WE SAY: With hospitals showing lukewarm interest in the idea, the state needs firmer plans to ensure patients who had used the Tinley Park center in the past will still have access to adequate mental health care.

For several months we have been wary of the approach the state of Illinois has taken as it tries to execute a plan under which the Tinley Park Mental Health Center would be closed and the valuable land underneath it is sold.

While the potential commercial and residential development on 213 acres at 183rd Street and Harlem Avenue could be beneficial to the village of Tinley Park and the rest of the region, the closure of the mental health center, we've feared, could create a void in mental health care in the Southland. Before the center is completely shuttered, we've said, the state needs a firm plan in place to address these concerns and ensure those in need of public health care receive it.

A story in the Sunday Southtown by staff reporter Gregg Sherrard Blesch indicates the state still has a way to go. The state is reaching out to local private hospitals to see if they would be willing to house mental health patients who in the past would have been admitted to the Tinley Park Mental Health Center. The state has armed itself with a study that indicates the private hospitals within a region that stretches from Chicago's South Side to Kankakee and Grundy counties would be able to handle the patient load.

But the state has hardly received an overwhelming positive response from the private hospitals. Though formal proposals have not been issued to all the targeted hospitals, state officials have approached all of them since 2004 about the plan. To date, only Riverside Medical Center in Kankakee and Jackson Park Hospital on Chicago's South Side have signed contracts with the state to take in patients, at state expense.

In the Southland, Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn and Palos Community Hospital in Palos Heights have indicated they won't be part of this so-called solution.

A spokesman for Christ Medical Center said its patient population is growing and it does not have the space, despite the state study that shows it should be able to offer 12 beds for psychiatric patients. A Palos spokesman said that hospital is "not equipped nor staffed to provide the level of service ... at the Tinley Park facility." Other local hospitals remain noncommital. Ingalls Memorial Hospital in Harvey is willing to be part of the plan, but "we by no means want to be the only solution," an official said.

We find it interesting the state is reaching out to private hospitals for help in an era when private hospitals often must jump through strict regulatory hoops the state puts up whenever they want to expand or build new facilities.

Mental health care advocates have expressed concerns the money generated by the sale of the Tinley Park center — estimated at $30 million — may not be put back in full into care for the mentally ill. The state has indicated its plan to address mental illness is through outpatient support and crisis services complemented by local hospitals.

One of the concerns we've had over the proposal to close the Tinley Park center is that without firm alternatives provided by the state, much of the responsibility for public mental health care would fall to county governments, which are already overburdened. We join advocates in their concern that some patients will fall through the cracks and become more ill. Some will eventually wind up in prison, still not receiving adequate care.

Again we implore the state to find firm solutions to these problems. No amount of money generated by the sale of the mental health center can justify society ignoring the needs of the mentally ill.

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