CHICAGO, IL — A political will has been there a long time: the will to reward private industry with public money meant for public resources, in this case the Chicago City Mental Health Clinics. Thirty years ago, in 1989, there were 19 City of Chicago Community Mental Health Centers. Before 2011, I recall testifying in front of Richard M. Daley to keep our clinics open. He held multiple hearings all over the city about the neighborhood and he did not close the clinics. The political will is to close the city public mental health clinics. This is a mistake.
Then the new kid on the block, Rahm Emanuel, blew in town from DC and closed six clinics perfunctorily. There were no community hearings. The mayor turned his back on the clinics, never spoke about them, never physically maintained them, never promoted them, and, most visibly, never changed the name of the mayor on the signs. Several clinics still bear Daley’s name.
I was a patient in one of them and I benefited from the services that I received. I’ve been a member of the Community Mental Health Board for over ten years. My goal has always been to make sure that the PUBLIC mental health clinics are available and thriving in the communities they serve.
Presently, that is impossible because the political will is to sell off these clinics to the private sector. Commissioner of Public Health Julie Morita refuses to listen to the community voice about the clinics. In fact, she does not show up for City Council meetings. She sends her deputy. She schmoozed with Cook County to serve the Roseland clinic. Not only did that leave us with five City clinics, it also spelled doom for the underserved Roseland area. Clients were required to go to Stroger (Cook County) Hospital and the Roseland footprint was lost under a heap of bureaucratic skullduggery.
Now the private sector chimes in with an argument that it can do it better, that it can offer wrap-around services for the indigent clients that the City serves.
Where have they been for the last ten years? Oh, yes, the State of Illinois did not pay these agencies, so they didn’t have a morsel for the poor, homeless, undocumented, uninsured people. Theoretically, this could happen again. The responsibility of a PUBLIC entity is absolute. (https://chicago.suntimes.com/well/mental-health-clinic-chicago-closures-lori-lightfoot/)
Mayor-Elect Lightfoot has a golden opportunity to be a leader for public mental health services for Chicago. First, she can hold a hearing with the Task Force of stakeholders to ascertain the feasibility of public mental health Clinics. That will be an easy finding (https://sammyersfoundation.com/mental-health-statistics). Then, she might delegate physical improvements to make the five remaining clinics accessible. Thirdly, she could order the Department of Public Health do its job, by educating the public about mental health, recovery, and hope for the future: make flyers about mental health symptoms and hold town halls in communities.
Fourthly, open more clinics in unserved areas. Lastly, The Community Mental Health Board or some other consumer body, must always participate in changes through all these efforts, for we are the public that the City serves.