State hearing on closing Singer Mental Health Center

Rockford, IL – A long-time leader in mental health services in the Rockford area is offering up a solution to Governor Pat Quinn's proposal to close the Singer Mental Health Center. Former Singer director Dick Kunnert now heads the Mental Health Association of the Rock River Valley. The group proposes that Singer's building be sold to a private community-based not-for-profit corporation. Out from under state control, the group would create a comprehensive system of mental health services, including care for children and in-patient and out-patient options.

Kunnert was one of dozens of people who spoke Wednesday at a four-hour public hearing in Rockford about the proposed closure. Singer Mental Health Center is one of seven state facilities the governor wants to close by the end of the year to help balance the state's budget. Under that tight timeline, the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability held its public hearing on Singer at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Rockford. Representatives from the department of human services and the governor's budget office spoke: they said the closures are unavoidable because state lawmakers wouldn't budget enough to keep the facilities open.

The commission also got an earful from mental health advocates, like Robin Garvey of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. She says eliminating the services at Singer would mean more psychiatric patients showing up in local emergency rooms - - she had just heard about one patient being forced to stay in a local hospital's emergency room for ten days while they waited for a bed to open up in a psychiatric facility. Garvey contends the closing of Singer would crash an already over-burdened system.

Rhonda Bergstrom manages emergency trauma services at the Swedish American Health System in Rockford. She says they already handle about 500 psychiatric patients every month. E.R. nurses receive SOME training on handling them, but Bergstrom says they are ill-equipped and ill-prepared to handle psychiatric emergencies on a daily basis.

State senator Dave Syverson is from Rockford and on the Commission. He says it's clear the Department of Human Services CANNOT close Singer by the end of the year. He wants them to "go back to the drawing board" and leave the facilities like they are for the short-term.

The Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability plans to have its recommendation on the future of Singer in about a month. There are hearings scheduled for each state facility on the chopping block, including Dixon's Jack Mabley Developmental Center. That's scheduled for October 17th the Dixon Theater.