Despite a dramatic protest by mental health activists outside Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office that lasted 10 hours, the city council unanimously approved the 2012 budget, which includes downsizing the city’s 12 mental health clinics to six sites.
These drastic cuts to city clinics in the mayor’s first budget have prompted fears among some Chicagoans that people won’t be able to receive needed services.
“We are declaring this Rahm’s Psych Ward,” said a group of protesters wearing hospital gowns over their clothing. They sat down in a circle outside the mayor’s fifth floor office and refused to move until they either “got their clinics back” or were arrested.
“We stand in 100 percent solidarity with all the people here who are fighting to keep our health services and not let Rahm Emanuel take all the money and give it to corporations,” said Loren Taylor of Occupy the Hood.
Gail M. Davis was ready to be arrested at the protest on Tuesday. She is a member of Southside Together Organizing for Power, (STOP) and sits on the consumer advisory board of Beverly Morgan Park Mental Health Center where she is treated.
Davis said she has struggled with mental illness all her life, but has only sought treatment this year.
Under Emanuel’s budget, her clinic will close and consolidate with Roseland Mental Health Center, which is three miles away. She said she is unsure if she will be able to receive services there.
“For me and thousands of others, this is our second home,” said Davis. “We will have no outlet nor escape. We won’t have nothing to live for and we won’t want to live.”
Other activists were more direct in their challenges to the mayor.
“Emanuel, if you really want a healthy Chicago, then keep these clinics open,” said Fritz Crothers, as he addressed the group of mental health advocates, consumers and workers.
Crothers was treated at Greater Lawn Mental Health Center in the West Lawn neighborhood after a judge sentenced him to two years probation on the condition that he receive help for his mental illness and drug addiction.
He continues to receive assistance although his probation ended.
“They have given me a new lease on life that without these clinics, I will no longer have and others in my shoes will never have,” said Crothers.
Greater Lawn Mental Health Center will remain open, but will merge with the Back of the Yards Mental Health Center, which is about four miles away.
Crothers said he already has to travel from 55th Street and Kedvale Avenue to 111th Street and Morgan Park in order to receive psychiatric services at Beverly Morgan Park Mental Health center, since there are no psychiatrists available at Greater Lawn.
Over the past six and a half years he’s been treated there, Crothers said he has seen Greater Lawn Mental Health go from having a full-time psychiatrist to part-timers who are available in three or four hour shifts.
He said these are the same psychiatrists who are circulated throughout the city clinics and that they don’t have the time to build a rapport with patients.
Because of staffing shortages, he said he’s also had to go to Cook County Hospital to receive medication.
“Usually, I would have said ‘to hell with it’ and went back to using street drugs,” said Crothers.
He said that hasn’t happened because the mental clinics are open and he’s able to receive therapy.
Although Crothers is currently able to travel a long distance to complement his mental health care, he said he is concerned that because of the cuts, other people who “are less functional” won’t be able to do the same.
Ald. Willie Cochran (20th) called for public hearings on the cuts to mental health, a resolution co-sponsored by Ald. Latasha Thomas (17th) and Ald. Lona Lane (18th), referred to the Committee on Health and Environmental Protection.
Ald. Marty Quinn (13th) did not return a call requesting a comment on the merging of Greater Lawn Mental Health Center, which is in his ward.
The mayor’s press office did not return a phone call requesting comment on the closure of the clinics. The Department of Public Health did not return several requests to comment.
Clinics will begin closing in July 2012, according to the approved budget.