Mental health activists and patients descended upon the Chicago Department of Public Health and the mayor’s office to demand the North River Mental Health Center hire a psychiatrist. The center, which is on the far Northwest side of Chicago, has not had a full-time psychiatrist on staff since July 31st, when the previous psychiatrist retired.
Becky Brasfield, an officer of North River’s consumer council, an advocacy group made up of patients from the center, said her group has made repeated phone calls and sent numerous letters to the public health department about this issue but has only received “form letters” in response and has not received any indication of when the center will hire a psychiatrist.
“We are here today because there is a current crisis in mental healthcare facing the consumers of North River,” Brasfield said to a group of approximately 25 supporters.
“We need answers,” she stated.
Brasfield said the center’s 300 patients have not been able get new prescriptions or refill existing prescriptions. To make prescriptions last, patients are breaking pills in half or not taking prescribed doses, she said.
If the center does not get a psychiatrist, there could be severe consequences for the patients, Brasfield said.
“With mental health symptoms sometimes people become suicidal, sometimes they act out,” Brasfield said. “We want to prevent the crisis.”
The group asked to speak with Chicago Health Commissioner Dr. Bechara Choucair, but was told he was not in the office.
Brian Richardson, the health department’s deputy commissioner, instructed the group to “shoot” him an e-mail listing their questions and concerns. The suggestion was not well received.
“Shoot you an e-mail?” shouted a member of the group. “We’re in front of your face now!”
The department’s response disappointed Michael Snedeker, executive director of Coalition to Save our Mental Health Centers.
“It’s a crisis situation, and for us to go up there and have them say ‘shoot me an e-mail’ shows they are so out of touch with the reality of the people they’re serving,” Snedeker said.
City health officials did not respond to a request for comment. Choucair, who was stopped on the street, also declined comment.
From the Department of Public Health, the group traveled by bus to City Hall, where they gathered outside the mayor’s office on the fifth floor.
Chloe Rasmas, a press aide to Mayor Rahm Emanuel, met with the group but did not answer any questions and did not guarantee a meeting with the mayor.
Rasmas said the issue is one for the Department of Public Health and encouraged the group to keep working with Choucair and his office.
“Our concerns were completely discounted,” Brasfield said.
“There was no sense that they thought ‘we get where you’re coming from, we know this is an emergency.’ It was really just ‘get out,’” she added.
Despite the lack of progress, Brasfield said she has no intention of letting this issue go.
“We’re not going to give up. I mean, we have to have a psychiatrist.”