Singer Center's fate underscores mental health service woes in northern Illinois

Jun 25, 2012

Providers and advocates expect Gov. Pat Quinn to follow through on his promise to close the Singer Mental Health Center in Rockford. Quinn first targeted the facility last year and renewed his call to close Singer, along with the Tinley Park Mental Health Hospital, during his budget address in late February.

Fast-forward four months, and Quinn is following through on his promise to shutter facilities.

The Tinley Park location is scheduled to close in early July. And a spokeswoman for the governor’s budget office says their plans haven’t changed for Rockford’s Singer Center. A formal announcement is expected when Quinn signs the state’s new budget at the end of the month. 

The decision to close Singer has providers and advocates worried about the effect it will have on local residents in need of psychiatric care. According to the Illinois Department of Human Services, the center primarily serves a nine county region.  But it takes in people from other parts of the state. In addition to concerns about care, law enforcement officials are worried about crowded jails taking on extra inmates who would otherwise be sent to places like Singer following a crisis.

Sandy Lewis is executive director of the McHenry County Mental Health Board. She says they don’t use Singer on a primary basis. But she says they will still feel some of the impact.

“With Singer closing, more demand will be shifted to Elgin, and we have a primary relationship with the Elgin state operated facility” Lewis said. “So having less beds available to us there does again shift the responsibility back on to the community.”

Adding to the problem for McHenry County is that its main private mental health center is due to close at the end of the month. After its funding sources dried up, the center tried to merge with another provider in an effort to keep the doors open.  But those plans fell through. Lewis says they’re now in the process of working with the state and community groups to prepare the facility’s clients for the transition that lies ahead.

“In the last 90 days, we estimate that between 2,000 and 2,500 people received services from Family Services [Mental Health Center]. So it’s really a daunting challenge to make sure that there are individualized pathways for these individuals” Lewis said.

For the communities directly served by Rockford’s Singer Center, similar steps are being taken to absorb the impact of the facility’s anticipated closure. Robin Garvey, who’s with the northern Illinois chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, says discussions are ongoing.

“There’s a possibility of creating new beds at some private hospitals. Also, there’s talk about a triage center being created in Rockford”  Garvey said.

Despite the efforts being made, Garvey says they’re up against a time crunch. She also says there’s another problem: a lack of outside funding to make up for dwindling support from the state.

“Many, many areas in northern Illinois have what are called 708 Boards. They have a local funding stream where a very small tax has been applied to provide funding for people with developmental disabilities and mental illnesses” says Garvey. “In our area, there is no such funding stream. So there’s no safety net. There’s no back-up.”

But an extra funding source doesn’t always prevent drastic cuts. Advocates point to what’s happening in McHenry County.  Meanwhile, in the case of the Tinley Park hospital, a lawsuit was filed to block the closing.  Advocates wanted to ensure that all of the money saved from the move would be redirected to community services. A judge denied the motion filed by the plaintiffs, which included Garvey’s organization.

In theory, advocates agree with the governor's argument that Illinois needs to focus more on community care versus institutional care. But Garvey says emerging models for crisis intervention won’t always be the proper form of treatment.

 “Unfortunately, there are some people who are still gonna need hospitalization. And we have to be careful that we are able to provide for those people who are least able to provide for themselves when they’re in a crisis” Garvey said.

Like the situation in Tinley Park, Rockford-area officials are worried the state won’t redirect enough funding to ramp-up community based mental health-care.