Health advocates and workers held a candlelight vigil in front of city hall last night in the hopes of staving off proposed cuts in the city budget to clinics and the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) and Department of Family Support Services (DFSS). The current proposal, which will be voted on by city council next week, calls for the closing of six mental health clinics, the privatization of seven health clinics, and nearly 200 layoffs for DFSS employees. The upcoming vote leaves little time for advocates to save these services for the “most vulnerable of citizens.”
“It’s going to be tough to save the health care for the these weak and most vulnerable people out there,” said Alderman Nick Sposato (36th), who attended the vigil. “Their privatizing and they feel this is a better way to go.”
All seven of Chicago’s neighborhood health clinics would be privatized under the current budget plans, leaving 7,000 patients per month without access to basic health care. Advocates claim the move will eliminate the jobs of dedicated public servants and hurt medically-underserved communities. Each clinic is located in poverty-stricken neighborhoods, including Englewood, Roseland, South Chicago, South Lawndale, West Town, Lower West and Uptown. Each clinic is managed by CDPH, while providing primary care services to children and adults at little to no cost.
“The idea of privatizing the clinics is really smoke and mirrors,” said Dr. Odie Payne III, who has practiced obstetrics and gynecology in public and private practice for 28 years. “Ever since I’ve been with the City of Chicago, the previous mayor was attempting to dismantle our clinics because he didn’t want to be in the business of health care and the same is apparently happening with this mayor.”
Dr. Payne believes many of the patients he sees will not be able to seek health care if the facilities are privatized because of profit motivation. In his time as a public service doctor, he has seen Chicago drop from at least 15 clinics to just seven.
If the mayor gets his way, DFSS is also faced with the shedding of nearly 200 jobs in an attempt to save about $3 million. Southside Together Organizing for Power (STOP) contends otherwise by citing North Carolina’s attempts to privatize their facilities, resulting in a $400 million cost overrun. Additionally, DFSS already lost 24 jobs in August when the city shut down its overnight services for the homeless.
“They are asking the remainder of the two shifts to work overtime to supplement the midnight to 8 a.m. shift that was eliminated,” said Kamaria Powell, a support services coordinator in DFSS. “It is very critical right now because we are approaching winter and these are the people who respond to well-being checks and 311 calls. They are first responders as well.”
The additional layoffs at DFSS are not specified in the budget and could come from anyone of the services provided by the department. DFSS runs programs like head start, senior service centers, workforce development, and a domestic violence help line. With just about 650 current employees, the layoffs would result in a more than 30 percent decrease in department capabilities at a time when more people are using them.
“We had a wave of people who retired and [were] not replaced,” said Powell. “I’m wondering where that money went. Why are you laying off front-line critical workers to protect managers making six figures? A human services worker does not make that much.”
According to publically available salary data from the City of Chicago, human services worker salaries range from the low to mid $50,000s. More experienced workers can see salaries near $70,000. At the top of the department are 15 employees with deputy commissioner in their official title and salaries ranging from $94,000 to $134,000. Only one does not earn a six-figure income. It is currently unknown if any of these higher ups face layoffs if the proposed budget passes next week.
Further closures in mental health clinics could result in thousands of mentally ill people without sources of treatment. According to STOP, the Auburn Gresham, Back of the Yards, Beverly Morgan Park, Woodlawn, Northwest Rogers Park, and Northwest clinics would all be closed leaving just six publically-operated facilities in the city.
Advocates chanted “No Clinics, No Votes,” a message to alderman on how to vote next week.
“If this budget passes in its current form there are going to be 500 city workers out in the cold,” said Henry Bayer, executive director of AFSCME Council 31. “There are going to be mentally ill citizens of this city left out in the cold. There are going to be thousands of others who rely on city services who are not going to get them and [be] left out in the cold. We are out here to build a little heat so no one gets left out in the cold.”
Gale Davis, a patient at the Beverly Morgan Park clinic says she would be devastated if her clinic closed.
“When [Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s] eyes blink, I have to wonder what are you looking at and what are you seeing,” questioned Davis. “You cannot be seeing everything clearly as can be. These TIF funds should go to schools, clinics and other services. How dare you, Rahm Emanuel, close our clinics? Just thinking of the fact you are considering closing them makes anyone cringe at this preposterous proposal.”
The video below is a short conversation Progres Illinois had with Davis earlier in the day: