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Chicago-Read cuts are a loss

Thursday, June 23, 2005
Pioneer Press

With recent cuts, the Chicago-Read Mental Health Center now has 50 fewer beds and 47 fewer employees. Many patients who would have gone there will instead go to Madden Mental Health Center in Maywood.

The reductions are part of broad changes to the way state health officials are handling mental-health care in the Chicago area. It's quite possible that further cuts could lead to the closing of Chicago-Read. A third hospital, Tinley Park Mental Health Center, is part of the consolidation.

An official with the state's division of mental health said these changes won't diminish the three hospitals' ability to provide services. Staff-to-patient ratios are actually improving, the official said.

But the reality remains that with these reductions there are fewer front-line workers offering mental health care to the people who need it.

Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin points out that when those who need hospitalization can't find a bed, they can easily wind up in the "wrong place" - a county hospital or Cook County Jail.

In many ways, patients at Read are already some of the most marginalized and voiceless in our society. Generally, they also have no health insurance. Politically, it's easy to cut funds for people who need mental-health care, as they have no strong lobbying group to speak on their behalf.

"They really may be relying on public mental-health care like Read as the last safety net between them and homelessness, between them and the criminal-justice system," said Anders Lindall, a spokesman for AFSCME, the union that represents state mental-health workers.

Several state legislators have asked Gov. Rod Blagojevich to stop the reductions. They were right to do so.

For those with mental health issues, the worst thing society can do for them is let them "fall through the cracks" in the system of care.

The state's cuts - and the prospect of further cuts - seem to be adding more cracks to the system.

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