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Negative Impact of Mental Health Clinic Closures Already Felt: Activists

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    NEWSLETTERS

    City's health department says transition process is going smoothly. (Published Monday, Apr 16, 2012)

    Mental health proponents are not backing down, and they say word that patients have been turned away from the services they need only add fuel to their fire.

    Demonstrators want Mayor Rahm Emanuel to keep all 12 of the city's mental health clinics open. The Chicago Department of Health has already shut down two of the six slated for closure.

    Activists on Monday showed up at a meeting of the Chicago Mental Health Advisory Board, claiming that all of their previous appeals have been ignored.

    They said the two sites that have closed are already having an impact. In one case, they say a man became suicidal when he was twice turned away from two alternate clinics; the first time because he didn't have any money for a co-pay, and the second time because the clinic didn't have any room for him.

    Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Bechara Choucair said such claims are taken seriously and are investigated. But he describes the transition as thorough, and one in which patients are closely monitored. He said a city staffer makes sure the transitioning patient has an appointment with a new therapist at another clinic and then checks to be sure the patient has actually seen that therapist.

    In total, he said about 600 patients are part of the change. The other approximately 3,000 will continue to get city services, though they may be at another clinic.

    While protestors have maintained that this is another example of city budget cuts at the expense of public health, the commissioner insists that in fact this will allow the city to cover more uninsured patients.

    Money has been set aside, he says, to hire more mental health professionals, including doctors. Additionally Dr. Choucair explains that only insured patients are moving to community health centers. "That leaves city services available for people who desperately need mental health treatment but have no way to pay for it," according to the commissioner.

    Protesters, however, said they will continue to fight. With clinics in Rogers Park and Logan Square already closed, the Woodlawn Mental Health Clinic is expected to close its doors in two weeks, and that's likely to bring more protest.

    Twenty-three people were arrested last week when they barricaded themselves behind steel gates and cement at a south side clinic.