New plan forms to keep state facilities open, for now

By Andrew Thomason
Illinois Statehouse News

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Notices have gone out to nearly 200 Tinley Park Mental Health Center employees letting them know they will be laid off Dec. 3 as their facilities prepares to close under orders from Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn (D).

But Thursday morning, Nov. 10, a legislative commission voted against Quinn’s move to close the state psychiatric center.

The Legislature’s Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA) also voted Nov. 10 against closing the Logan Correctional Center in Lincoln and the Jacksonville Developmental Center facility.

There’s a right way to close these places, and there’s a wrong way to do it, and I thought this was the wrong way,” state Rep. Kevin McCarthy, D-Orland Park, said.

Quinn announced the closures of those and four other state facilities and the laying off of nearly 2,000 employees earlier in the year because the General Assembly didn’t give him enough money in its $33.2 billion budget.

COGFA voted last month against closing the Singer Mental Health Center in Rockford, Mabley Developmental Center in Dixon, the Illinois Youth Center in Murphysboro and the Chester Mental Health Center.

COGFA’s votes, however, are advisory only, and Quinn could still move forward with the closings.

If (Tinley Park Mental Health Center) closes, there has to be some place, some facility, some type of program for the folks those facilities serve,” Edward Zabrocki, Tinley Park mayor, said. “You can’t close a facility and have no place for these people to be handled. That borders on criminal. They’ve got to have a place to go.”

The Tinley Park facility treated about 1,900 patients last year.

A plan has formed that would avert the closures in the short-term by using some of the $376 million Quinn vetoed from the budget, along with other unappropriated funds, Kelly Kraft, Quinn’s budget spokesman, said.

Kraft pegged the cost at keeping the facilities open and the workers employed through the end of the fiscal year in June at about $223 million. She could not say how much of the money would come from Quinn’s budgetary vetoes and how much would come from other funds.

Some state House lawmakers will return to Springfield Wednesday, Nov. 16, and could debate the proposal in a House Revenue Committee. The full General Assembly will come back to the capitol Nov. 29, when Kraft said the governor hopes it will approve his plan.

About 160 employees at Rockford’s Singer Mental Health Center are next in line to get pink slips if Quinn can’t round up the votes needed in the Legislature for his plan.

We can’t pay the staff if we don’t have the money,” Michael Gelder, Quinn’s senior health care policy adviser, said.

Members of COGFA who voted against closing the facilities said they didn’t vote against what Quinn suggested, just the way he did it.

The House and the Senate and both parties are willing to sit down with the administration in developing a long-range plan that will be affordable, that will serve the needs of the residents … but we need to do that in an orderly way, as opposed to something that becomes confrontational,” said state Sen. Dave Syverson, D-Rockford, whose district includes Singer Mental Health Center.

Gelder outlined a new plan to save the state money by closing up to six state facilities — four developmentally disabled facilities and two psychiatric hospitals — by June 2014.

Approximately 600 of the 2,000 residents of state developmentally disabled facilities would be moved into smaller, community-based settings, according to Gelder.

Whether the facilities closed under Quinn’s new plan would be the same ones originally targeted has yet to be decided, Kraft said.

If lawmakers approve keeping the facilities open through June, “we will move ahead with a planned, thoughtful approach,” Gelder said. “Stopping admissions, initiating the assessments and completely care plans and transition plans that will enable us to meet the needs of the people that we all want to meet.”

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