Rallying against mayor’s plan to close mental health facilities

By Kaley Fowler

As budgetary concerns prompt the city to cut back on public services, a coalition of mental health activists are condemning Mayor Rahm Emanuel for his proposal to close six of the city’s 12 mental health facilities by the end of the month.

Southside Together Organizing for Power, a community organization fighting for racial and economic justice on the South Side, and the Mental Health Movement, a branch of STOP, came together April 12 at Woodlawn Mental Health Center, 6337 S. Woodlawn Ave., to voice their opposition to the mayor’s proposal.

“At a time when need for mental health services is growing, Mayor Emanuel is closing Woodlawn and five [other] mental health clinics in Chicago,” said Mental Health Movement spokeswoman N’Dana Carter in a written statement. “The mayor is actively seeking subsidies for his rich campaign contributors while cutting off services to some of Chicago’s most vulnerable.”

A group of patients, Woodlawn staff and supporters gathered inside the center for a luncheon and listened to testimonies from several advocates of the facility.

“[Deciding to close the clinics] lacked a lot of forethought,” said Tim Hudson, a public health nurse from the Illinois Nurses Association. “[Emanuel] didn’t realize that we’re talking about the destruction of the entire public health safety net through the closure of the six mental health care clinics.”

Following the rally, more than 200 protesters gathered outside the facility. At about 4 p.m., some protesters began barricading themselves inside the clinic by chaining the doors shut. At approximately 1 a.m., police broke down the barrier and arrested 23 of the activists, said Linda Hatcher, a Woodlawn patient among those arrested.

“I’m not going to give up and go without a fight,” said Hatcher.

Emanuel’s proposal, which will impact more than 5,300 patients of the Chicago Department of Public Health-operated clinics, was passed by the City Council and will take effect by the end of April.

The six facilities slated to close, four of which are located on the South Side, are Northwest Mental Health Clinic, 2354 N. Milwaukee Ave.; Northtown Rogers Park Mental Health Clinic, 1607 W. Howard St.; Auburn Gresham Mental Health Clinic, 1140 W. 79th St.; Back of the Yards Mental Health Clinic, 4313 S. Ashland Ave.; Beverly–Morgan Park Mental Health Clinic, 1987 W. 111th St.; and Woodlawn Mental Health Clinic.

“A lot of people have depended on these clinics as a refuge,” said David Mailey, a Woodlawn volunteer. “It’s a home away from home, and without that you’re … splitting up a family that doesn’t want to be split up.”

In an effort to combat the impending closings, the Mental Health Movement has been staging protests and rallies throughout the city.

The group recently released the report “Dumping Responsibility: The Case Against Closing CDPH Mental Health Clinics” outlining why they believe shutting down the facilities will negatively impact both patients and the public.

According to the report, of the 5,300 affected patients, 2,549 patients will have to travel to other cities or seek private care because the city has no other facilities in which to place them. It also states that while the city will save $2 million by closing the clinics, the savings are “tiny and illusory,” as the figure is “barely 1 percent” of the CDPH’s $169 million annual budget.

While the Mental Health Movement asserts that the cuts are “ill-timed, poorly planned and dangerous,” CDPH officials maintain that the mayor’s decision will not have a dire impact.

“All Chicago residents who depend on the city for services will continue to have access to quality mental health care,” said CDPH spokeswoman Efrat Stein in a written statement. “The Department of Public Health is expanding relationships with more than 60 community mental health providers to give people the quality care they deserve in their communities.”

The cuts to Chicago’s mental health facilities mirror statewide cuts proposed by Gov. Pat Quinn in his 2013 budget plan. On the state level, the Singer Mental Health Center in Rockford, Ill., and the Tinley Park Mental Health Center are under scrutiny and could soon be closing, as well.

“The safety net is pretty much becoming eroded at every level of government,” Hudson said. “It’s getting harder and harder to find resources.”