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Mental Health Movement: ‘These cuts smack of racism’

by Alexandra Gallucci
Jan 19, 2012


Alex Gallucci/MEDILL

Dr. Simon Piller, a representative for the doctor's council of the Service Employees International Union, spoke at a press conference Thursday opposing the closures of six Chicago Department of Public Health mental health clinics.

The closures of half of the Chicago Department of Public Health’s mental health clinics will save each taxpayer only $2 per year, said a report released Thursday by the Mental Health Movement—a medical advocacy group. The report said the closings have the potential to create significant problems for the city.

Diane Adams, a current patient at the closing Auburn Gresham Mental Health Clinic on Chicago’s South Side spoke Thursday at a press conference at the Chicago Temple: “I’m here to say that if they privatize our clinics, are we going to get the same kind of service that we’ll get from the public clinics?”

“Don’t privatize our clinics; we need them,” she said.

A spokeswoman with the Chicago Department of Public Health said the city plans to reinvest in the communities to improve mental health infrastructure city-wide. Efrat Stein said the health department plans to add 3,000 hours of services with funding from a competitive request for proposal,or RFP, that closed in December.
She said the current city-wide mental health system is plagued by challenges, including a lack of psychiatric services. The new plan would provide psychiatric care for more than 1,000 patients, Stein said.

The closures of these facilities particularly affect the city’s black and Hispanic populations, who rely heavily on these services and will have to find alternative sources of care for their illnesses, the advocates said Thursday.

“These cuts smack of racism for the disproportionate effects on black and Latino patients that rely on these services. People need help,” said Dr. Simon Piller, a spokesman for the doctor’s council representing Service Employees International Union.

Although the city is responsible for these closures, Deputy Communications Director Jennifer Hoyle said that the Office of the Mayor had not yet reviewed the report and could not comment.
The main objective in closing the clinics is to improve mental health infrastructure city-wide, a spokeswoman for the Chicago Department of Public Health said. 

“The savings for closing those six clinics are tiny,” said Jo Patton, director of special projects for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 31. The savings total $2.3 million, about one percent of the health department budget.

“The impact of throwing people out, of breaking up those important relationships is huge,” said Patton. “It’s huge not only for those individuals but for the city of Chicago, for our neighborhoods, for the quality of life.”

If the increases in spending were cut back to 2011 levels, the funding could be found to keep the facilities open, Patton said.

“When one considers the costs of state-funded hospitalizations or county-funded incarcerations, these clinics are one of the taxpayers best bargains,” said Eric Lindquist, a clinical therapist with the Chicago Department of Public Health. An average hospital stay for a mental health patient costs an average $1,000 per night, and these visits usually last seven to 14 days, said Lindquist.

Members of the Mental Health Movement, a joint effort of Southside Together Organizing for Power (STOP) and AFSCME argue that these closures will put stress on other city services that are not ready to absorb the shocks of this change.

For police, the biggest concern is receiving emergency-responder calls for disturbances caused by mental patients, said Pat Camden, a spokesman for the Fraternal Order of Police.

“Obviously a patient in mental distress is not thinking logically and it presents a problem for the police,” he said. 

“They are not trained and they are not hired to handle the mentally ill, but that’s what they will be forced to do,” said N’Dana Carter, an organizer for STOP.

“ is essential to maintain these services in order for us to really to thrive as a city,” said Carolina Gaete, co-director of Blocks Together. “If we are truly opposed to violence, Mayor Emanuel- as you say- we cannot cut the mental health because they go hand-in-hand,” she said.