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Needed TPMHC wasting away

Thursday, March 24, 2005
The Star Editorial

As services at the Tinley Park Mental Health Center face continued erosion, we can only speculate that the state's longtime provider of mental health services in this region will eventually dwindle away to nothing.

Once again, we must comment that the slow wasting away of the Tinley Park center is a disservice to the entire Southland and a hardship to one of society's most vulnerable groups — people in need of mental health services, and their family members.

The Illinois Department of Human Services has notified a public employees union that the agency intends to lay off 46 workers and a smaller number of managers. That constitutes nearly one-fifth of the already-downsized staff at the center. The layoffs are to take place in May.

That news was released last month two days after Gov. Rod Blagojevich, in his state budget message, proposed another year of funding for the center.

It has been a year since Blagojevich first announced plans to close the Tinley Park center and sell its 213-acre campus, now considered prime real estate near the corner of Harlem Avenue and 183rd Street. The governor's announcement touched off protests from mental health advocates, state lawmakers and local municipal officials. That backlash slowed the move to close the center.

Also, a new state law requires state agencies to seek approval from a General Assembly "closure commission" before a facility can be shut down. So far, that hasn't happened.

But other steps have been taken at the Tinley Park center. Last summer, there were reports that patients were ordered transferred to Madden Mental Health Center in Maywood and Chicago Read on the city's far Northwest Side. Already, the number of beds at the center has declined. There are now 133 beds, compared to 244 in 1995. With the latest layoffs, that number will go down to 100.

Any plans by the state to close the mental health center depend on reducing the need for patient hospitalization by bolstering and better coordinating community services, such as crisis intervention and residential programs. The need for inpatient beds at the Tinley Park center, state officials say, could be absorbed by private hospitals and two other Chicago-area state centers.

That might sound good on paper. But mental health patients generally need to be hospitalized during times of crisis. When such crises strike, is there really any guarantee that a bed will be waiting and available at a private hospital?

The other option traveling to Maywood or the city's Northwest Side should not be the only option for family members who want to visit someone who's been hospitalized. This raises all kinds of problems, from an excessive amount of travel time to inadequate public transportation for people wishing to make a long trek.

We urge our local officials, and especially our state lawmakers, to keep the pressure on the governor and his decision-makers to keep the center open. Yet, the numbers don't lie, and those who want to shut the center down may be on their way to accomplishing their goal in a de facto sense.

What a shame to see this facility becoming an empty shell, incapable of providing services to those people who need them the most.

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