Closing Chicago mental health clinics will hurt patients

By Editorial Board

Protesters in Chicago’s Woodlawn neighborhood barricaded themselves inside a mental health clinic April 12 in vehement opposition to the citywide closings of mental health clinics, The Chronicle reported April 16. Mayor Rahm Emanuel will consolidate 12 mental health clinics across Chicago into six as part of his 2012 budget, which passed unanimously, Emanuel stated the move would save the city approximately $2.3 million per year.

Emanuel’s decision to close the clinics in an effort to save money is puzzling and will negatively affect many Chicagoans who rely on them for basic needs. To close Chicago’s enormous budget deficit, Emanuel is trimming the fat wherever he can. But there wasn’t much to cut from mental health clinics in the first place.

The $2 million in annual savings Emanuel promised is miniscule in the grand framework of the city budget. The city plans on spending at least $45 million for the NATO summit alone, more than 20 times the savings from closing clinics. It just doesn’t seem worth a measly $2 million to take such an important service away from thousands of Chicagoans. Some residents, particularly in lower-income neighborhoods, rely solely on the clinics and now face an array of issues. Now that only six will remain, many patients will have to travel farther for basic services. Some patients don’t have the means to travel and will now have to find another way to receive medication and treatment.

Mental health patients at the clinics to be shut down are being displaced. Once the clinics close, there is no guarantee the remaining clinics will take them, even if they have insurance. The Chicago Tribune reported that the city will refer 1,100 insured clients to private nonprofit community mental health clinics. Other insured clients and those with no insurance will be referred to Chicago’s remaining city clinics. Because of the consolidation, some patients will be forced to go to unfamiliar neighborhoods and leave therapists they have been comfortable with. Anyone familiar with mental disorders knows that it is important to stick with a therapist the patient trusts. Emanuel may have been thinking about saving money, but he also should have thought about the people who will pay dearly for it.

Clinics will continue to close regardless. But Emanuel should pull back on this measure just like he did with his speed camera initiative and really think about the 5,100 Chicagoans who will suffer when the clinics are shut down.