PI Original Matthew Blake Friday April 20th, 2012, 9:29am

City Officials And Mental Health Advocates Continue Stand Off In Chicago

From partly undoing cuts for branch library hours to extending the school day seven – not seven and a half – hours, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has scaled back major policy changes in response to public criticism. Thus far, this is not the case with the city’s plan to close six of its 12 mental health clinics, despite vehement protests planned to continue at least through next week.

From partly undoing cuts for branch library hours to extending the school day seven – not seven and a half – hours, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has scaled back major policy changes in response to public criticism. Thus far, this is not the case with the city’s plan to close six of its qw mental health clinics, despite vehement protests planned to continue at least through next week.

The city maintains that the closings are a first step in improving mental health care for the more than 2,700 active clients at the city’s 12 health clinics – about 1,300 of which must transfer clinics this month.

“These reforms are not budget driven,” wrote Efrat Stein, spokesman for the Chicago Department of Public Health in an e-mail. “They were written to allow us to strengthen our services while enhancing the mental health system in Chicago.”

The so-called enhancements also include privatizing the city’s seven community health clinics and a search for a private company to provide mental health services.

Also, according to Stein, the city secured a $3 million federal grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration to have community providers, not government clinics, provide mental health services.

The grant arguably bolsters Stein’s claim that the closings are not about saving money: The closings are estimated to save the city $2.3 million.

Jo Patton, director of special projects at AFSCME Local 31, which represents clinic therapists laid off by the closings, argues that the city will not budge because the closings fit “into a commitment by both the mayor and the Chicago Department of Public Health to privatize services.”

“There is very little indication so far that the city wants to negotiate,” Patton adds. “Usually the city would want to reach out and say – ‘Okay, We will keep one clinic open.’”

Stein did point out that the city “has met with protesters over a dozen times and we continue to meet with them.” Also, protesters are also participating in the Mental Health Advisory Board meeting, which take place monthly, including this past Monday.

It is not clear what constructive ideas emerged from the city’s dialogue with protesters. Stein says that the advisory board meetings led to the city focusing on increased psychiatry services, and that the city listened to concerns about the privatization of health services.

But N’Dana Carter, a consumer advocate with the Mental Health Movement coalition, has regularly sat at the monthly advisory board meetings and says they are futile.

“The city is making no concessions,” says Carter, also a patient at the Greater Grand/Mid-South Mental Health Center, which is not scheduled to close. Carter claims city officials have spent meetings detailing where to place furniture left over from shuttering clinics.

The Mental Health Movement coalition, which includes the Woodlawn neighborhood group Southside Together Organizing for Power (STOP) and also mental health patients, spent the past week camped outside the Woodlawn Mental Health Clinic, following the arrest of 23 people who occupied the clinic last week.

The coalition, along with groups like AFSCME Local 31, plans to hold further rallies and free health screenings this weekend. Over the past week, the coalition had what they characterized as a contentious and fruitless meeting with the advisory board and also interrupted the Chicago City Council meeting Wednesday – demanding Emanuel meet with patients affected by the closings.

The city shuttered the Northwest Clinic in Logan Square and Rogers Park Clinic on April 9, and plan to close the Woodlawn Clinic along with the Auburn Gresham, Beverly/Morgan Park, and Back of the Yards clinics April 30.

According to Stein, each of the patients at these clinics devised a transition plan with a therapist, and will be transferred to either one of the six remaining clinics or a private facility.

Also, the patients at Northwest and Rogers Park have already had their care transferred to other city facilities – or are privately insured and transferred their care to community providers.

Matt Ginsberg-Jaeckle, an organizer at the Mental Health Movement, contends that the transition has been hardly seamless and that a handful of patients were already hospitalized.

Stein stated that specific hospitalization claims from the Mental Health Movement were unverifiable and that she is limited to speak on specific hospitalization claims because of privacy issues.

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