Group helps ‘STOP’ mental center closures

By mlekovic

Chicago’s mental health centers have been in a spiral of confusion for the past few weeks about whether or not some would be closing due to a $1.2 million cut in state funding.

In early April, four of the city’s mental health centers were in danger of being closed to the public. All four of the health centers are located on the South Side, and community groups rallied in protest against the closures.

“The administration had several meetings with mental health activists, as well as consumers, and I think they really made their point,” said Tim Hadac of the Chicago Department of Public Health. “The administration took a second look at the planned consolidation and we’re going to take another try at this.”

For now, the department of public health will be using federal stimulus dollars to keep the health centers running and able to serve their patients. In the future, the health department is hoping for more funding from the state, Hadac said.

“The long-term plan is to try to identify either new sources of funding or see if we can squeeze more out of the existing sources of funding, the largest obviously being state government,” Hadac said.

Southside Together Organizing for Power (STOP), showed its opposition to the closures by organizing four major protests including a town hall meeting, city council hearings and a sit-in at the mayor’s office before the scheduled closing date, April 7.

“They stopped the closure because we put public pressure on them to stop it,” said Matt Ginsberg, an organizer for STOP.

The location of the health centers in jeopardy also caused a stir with the residents of those communities and members of STOP.

“Had the city proceeded with their plan to close the clinics all in the South Side, all in black and Latino communities, it would have said a lot about where the city’s priorities are,” Ginsberg said.

If Chicago would have followed its original plan and closed down the four health centers, patients like N’dana Carter would have been drastically impacted.

Carter, 54, said she suffers from profound depression and visits Greater Grand/Mid-South Mental Health Center, 4314 S. Cottage Grove Ave., about five times a month. Due to her depression, Carter said she has trouble walking and has to use a cane.

If the health center, which was one of the facilities on the chopping block, had closed, going to a clinic would have been an impossible feat for Carter without public transportation.

The cost for treatment at these facilities is on a sliding scale, meaning the basis of payment depends on an individual’s income. For patients like Carter who have zero means of income, the treatments are free. Other patients, who have some sort of income, pay is anywhere between $10 and $30 per session.

Being a member of STOP, Carter was able to refocus on tasks other than her depression, she said.

“STOP is giving me the opportunity to work on something positive as opposed to deal with [the] reality of my life, and that’s very important to me,” Carter said. “It takes me away from being forced to sit in an environment that is very sad.”

The city promised STOP the two centers which were closed, Greater Grand and Beverly Morgan Park, will be re-opened before May. Patients like Carter are thankful for STOP’s continuing pursuit of fair mental health care in Chicago.

Mental illness comes in many forms, and  many argue that patients of all illnesses need clinics to help them survive. STOP said it will continue to fight to try and create more facilities in Chicago for patients in all communities, but for the time being, it are focused on stopping future closures.

“They’re just looking for work,” Vargas said.