Aldermen Look to Improve City's Mental Health Services

Group pushes for more psychiatrists at clinics, increased outreach

A group of Chicago aldermen, led by Jason Ervin, announced a plan to bolster the city’s mental health system Wednesday.

The group argues that increased mental health services will undercut costs incurred from multi-million dollar police shooting settlements. This comes in the wake of a series of high-profile police shootings involving victims with mental health conditions.

“The last set of incidents in our city, namely Laquan McDonald and the Quintonio LeGrier, were clear issues where mental health was definitely the reason why these calls were made,” Ervin said during a press conference Wednesday.

“If we help to improve people’s mental health that definitely will lead to less challenges in other areas,” Ervin told Ward Room.

The group of aldermen supporting the ordinance, which also consists of Ray Lopez, David Moore, Walter Burnett, Deb Mell, Nick Sposato, Anthony Napolitano and James Cappleman, is pushing for a proposed “mental health safety net” that further addresses the issue.

Ervin considers the ordinance “a great first step” that could potentially lead to “full psychiatric treatment at the clinics.”

The proposal would require the city to staff enough psychiatrists at its six mental health clinics to meet demand. New patients are currently not accepted at these clinics and psychiatrists are only on duty four to six hours a day, one day a week.

"CDPH is already making progress towards hiring psychiatrists and establishing contracts with insurance companies," a statement provided to Ward Room by the Chicago Department of Public Health said. "We feel strongly that Alderman Ervin’s ordinance will interfere with our ability to achieve these goals."

Under the ordinance, the CDPH would be given six months to join three managed care networks. Unlike most medicaid recipients, the city hasn't shifted to these managed care networks. In effect, the city can't be reimbursed for providing these mental health services.

"The costs for service under [Ervin's] proposal would never be adequately offset by reimbursement," the statement from the CDPH said. "We’re paying an average of $450.00 per patient, per visit, but only being reimbursed for roughly $75.00."

The CDPH has hired one additional psychiatrist to meet the city’s demand. A national shortage of psychiatrist’s could affect the city’s plan to bolster the staffs at these mental health clinics.

The ordinance would also require increased outreach by the Department of Public Health. The outreach would focus on making people who are struggling with mental illness more aware of their options for treatment.

According to Ervin, the ordinance has been directed to the health committee.

Last week, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced a plan to improve crisis intervention training among Chicago Police officers and 911 operators. The plan aims to improve the city’s handling of emergencies involving the mentally ill.

Emanuel’s first city budget closed six of the city’s twelve mental health clinics. Half of the aldermen proposing the ordinance also supported these closings. 

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