Cost of Community Care

By Gregory Cappis

Government plans to reduce current expenditures may only shift costs to other government agencies.

Mental health patients are slated to lose three out of the nine state psychiatric hospitals and half of Chicago’s 12 community mental health care centers, according to government reports. The plan would lay off hundreds of staff members and disrupt the lives of patients.

The treatment of people in need would be severely altered by these cuts, say patients’ rights advocates. Patients would be forced to seek medical help with new therapists in clinics unknown to them. This disruption could have severe effects on patients and the general public, they contend.

“You’re going to have people who aren’t going to be able to hold a job and therefore may lose their home, or you’re going to have people whose condition devolves to a point where they may act out,” said Anne Irving, director of public policy for American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. “They may get in trouble with the law, which involves costs to city services.”

The city and county budgets will be impacted the most by these decisions because they bear the costs of the department of corrections and homeless shelters, according to Mark Heyrman, clinical law professor at the University of Chicago. He said 1,500 people in the Cook County jail suffer from various mental illnesses and suggested that this number would only increase if the expected cuts go into effect.

The cuts would lay off 34 city workers and 850 state employees.

An even greater number of patients would be left with no trusted therapists or local health centers to turn to.

“The kindest thing [the government] can do is buy them a bus ticket to another state,” Heyrman said during a phone interview two days after speaking at a rally on Oct. 1, outside the Thompson Center, 100 W. Randolph St.

Marti Luckett is one patient who will suffer if these cuts go into effect. She currently goes to the Beverly-Morgan Park Mental Health Care Center, 1987 W. 111th St., for treatment. This location is one of the six publicly funded centers in Chicago that would be eliminated. Luckett said she has a great relationship with her therapist and feels she would have to start from scratch if forced to seek the help of others. She would need to find treatment at a center in the Roseland neighborhood on the far

South Side.

“I would be scared to walk from the bus stop to the care center,” Luckett said in an interview during the rally outside of the Thompson Center.

People quitting treatment with therapists for whatever reason could end up self-medicating, turning to crime or becoming homeless, Heyrman said.

The patients still seeking treatment may not have any place to go. The beds in the remaining state hospitals would be even more limited with these cuts because they are required to serve people in the Department of Corrections first and offer remaining beds to other citizens.

There are two types of state psychiatric hospitals: forensic and acute. The forensic hospitals are filled with people in trouble with the law. People determined incompetent for trial, and others determined not guilty by reason of insanity, fill the forensic beds until they are cleared to rejoin society. One large state forensic hospital will be closed under these cuts, according to Irving.

Acute hospitals offer services for uninsured people suffering from a mental illness. Two of these hospitals will be closed. One of these is near Chicago in suburban Tinley Park. Remaining acute hospitals will be forced to take in people currently residing in forensic hospitals.

“If somebody can’t get access to acute care services, they may harm themselves,” Irving said. “They may harm others. We may have more forensic beds to add to our state hospital system because people end up in the criminal justice system instead of getting the treatment that they need.”