PI Original Matthew Blake Friday January 20th, 2012, 11:30am

Alderman: City Council Will Review Mental Health Cuts

Ald. George Cardenas (12th) said Thursday that the health committee he chairs will hold a hearing to review cuts in the city’s 2012 mental health care budget – including the outlined closing of six of the city’s twelve mental health clinics.

Ald. George Cardenas (12th) said Thursday that the health committee he chairs will hold a hearing to review cuts in the city’s 2012 mental health care budget – including the outlined closing of six of the city’s twelve mental health clinics.

The anticipated hearing partly comes in response to pressure from the coalition Mental Health Movement, which released critical report of the clinic closings on Thursday. It also comes as Gov. Pat Quinn announced the closing of one state mental health clinic along with a facility for the developmentally disabled.

“We will work with the [Department of Public Health] Commissioner [Bechara] Choucair and line up a hearing,” Cardenas, chairman of the Health and Environmental Protection Committee, told Progress Illinois.

Cardenas said that his committee and the Chicago Department of Public Health, or CDPH, still must coordinate a date, but said the hearing should happen in the next month.

Like all 50 alderman, Cardenas voted ‘yes’ in November to a 2012 city budget that calls for the consolidation of the city’s 12 community mental health clinics into six clinics by June 30, 2012, and the related layoff of 155 clinic employees.

But Cardenas said in the interview that he will, “personally push for more clinics.”

The Mental Health Movement coalition – which includes groups like Southside Together Organizing for Power (STOP) – is skeptical. “We will see,” says N’Bana Carter, an organizer with the movement and also a patient at the Greater Grand/Mid-South Mental Health Center, which will stay open in the city’s planned consolidation. “It has been an ongoing effort to reach out to Alderman Cardenas.”

The coalition has scheduled protests and community forums that push to keep these clinics open, including a forum Thursday in the South Loop.

The forum coincided with the release of the report, “Dumping Responsibility: The Case Against Closing CDPH Mental Health Clinics.”

According to the report, closing six clinics will impact 2,549 patients “who must travel to other city clinics or seek private care.” For that, the city will save just $2 million, the report points out, or a little more than one percent of the $169 million CDPH budget.

And this $2 million in savings could be lost if worse city mental health care leads to more psychiatric hospitalizations and emergency room visits. The report quotes affected patients like Trina Carpenter, a patient at Beverly Morgan Park mental health center – which CDPH plans to close, who says, “Without the clinics some people will commit suicide.”

The city contends that closing these clinics will help create a long-term sustainable service mode, according to Efrat Stein, spokeswoman for CDPH. The Mental Health Movement report counters that the city has been too vague in what this model is.

Part of the model is more privatization. The city put out a “Request for Proposal” on December 27 for which private companies applied to provide “quality and cost effective health services to uninsured and underinsured individuals.” Stein wrote in an e-mail that the city is still reviewing applications.

Whatever the city decides will come as the state makes its own controversial mental health funding decisions. Gov. Quinn announced Thursday that two state mental health facilities in Tinley Park and Jacksonville will be shuttered and the state will transfer residents to community care settings.

Just as Chicago advocates have taken issue with the city’s mental health cuts, the AFSCME Local-31 public employee union has confronted the state for making mental health care cuts with insufficient public explanation.

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