Clinic closures spur mixed reaction

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While many are up in arms about the planned closures of six public mental health clinics, there are some who agree with the cuts.

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While many are up in arms about the planned closures of six public mental health clinics, there are some who agree with the cuts.

Since learning of the city’s planned cuts, for budgetary reasons, hundreds of protestors demonstrated for more than a week outside the Woodlawn Mental Health Clinic, 6337 S. Woodlawn; a 10-hour sit-in by Occupy Chicago outside Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office and a rally outside the Northwest Mental Health Clinic, 2354 N. Milwaukee Ave.

Dr. Carl Bell, professor of psychiatry and public health at the University of Illinois at Chicago, believes closing the mental health facilities are necessary.

“I really want to stress that I believe the clinics should be closed and the focus should turn from mental health care to the prevention of alcohol fetal syndrome. Most of the patients that are in mental health facilities and juvenile detention centers have speech and language disabilities, learning disabilities and are mentally retarded all because of fetal alcohol syndrome," Bell told the Defender.

Woodlawn was chosen because it is fully staffed, but has very few patients, he said.

“I sat around with a group for about eight hours and trying to determine who would be affected and how to save money and I am OK with the outcome. If the city spent more money on preventing fetal alcohol syndrome, there would be less of a need for medical clinics,” said Bell.

The clinic was the most recent location where about two-dozen protesters barricaded themselves inside the facility and police were forced to use chainsaws to cut through the doors. Nearly 50 protesters remained outside. The demonstration ended with 23 people being taken into custody by Chicago Police.

Those rallying against the closures included employees and patients of the clinics and S.T.O.P. (South Side Together Organizing for Power), a community organization advocating for racial and economic justice on the South Side.

Protestors believe the budget cuts threaten psychiatric care and medications both of which are needed to manage mental hair symptoms. There’s also concern the cuts will result in an increase in crime, leaving the jails to provide services once provided by the mental health clinics.

“I don’t blame the advocates. They have a right to protest. It’s their children that are mentally ill and they feel it is a service being take away from their children. They try to play the race card and the prison card and the jail card. But they refuse to look at the facts," said Bell.

Dr. William Sullivan, an ER doctor at the University of Chicago Medical Center, believes an even greater problem exists. If patients can’t find free or low cost outpatient psychiatric care, they will just invade emergency rooms and raise health care costs, he said.

“Saying they are going to save money by doing this is short-sighted. Patients don’t just disappear. Their problems don’t just get better. They go somewhere for care,” said Sullivan.

The City of Chicago website attempts to combat the concerns of those against the clinic closures. It states that by consolidating centers, this will allow for increased psychiatric services and more efficient operation of the clinics. It also states that all clinic locations will be near public transportation and some transportation assistance will be provided.

Others joining Woodlawn and Northwest for closure are: North town Rogers Park Mental Health Clinic, 1607 W. Howard St.; Auburn Gresham Mental Health Clinic, 1140 W. 79th St.; Back of the Yards Mental Health Clinic, 4313 S. Ashland Ave.; and Beverly–Morgan Park Mental Health Clinic, 1987 W. 111th St.

The closures will impact more than 5,300 patients of the Chicago Department of Public Health-operated clinics, will also call for the layoff of 53 employees and eliminate 25 vacant positions.

Copyright 2012 Chicago Defender

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