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  May 30, 2012

Mental Health Movement Resists Chicago Austerity Measures

Chicago Shuts Down 6 of the City’s 12 public mental health centers, moves towards privatization of services
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VOICEOVER: By the end of April, the city of Chicago had shut down 6 of its 12 public mental health clinics in a move that has sparked outrage among the city’s mental health clients and advocates. On Saturday, May 19th, hundreds of demonstrators marched on Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s northwest Chicago home in the latest of a series of actions targeting the city’s budgetary decision that they say is creating a crisis for many of the city’s mental health patients. Mayor Emanuel insists that the plan is not about cutting back on services, but rather consolidating and expanding available care.

RAHM EMANUEL, MAYOR, CHICAGO, ILLINOIS: I want people to remember, I take the issue of providing benefits and care to those who need mental health benefits seriously. We're not pulling back from service. In fact, we're giving more service to more people and we're adding a new benefit.

VOICEOVER: Under the city’s plan, uninsured patients will continue to receive care at the remaining 6 facilities, while those with insurance will go to a number of private sector care providers. The move will save the city an estimated 3 million dollars per year, though Mayor Emanuel has insisted that the decision is not about money, but improved services. Kelly Hayes of Occupy Chicago insists that the decision to close half of the public clinics is part of a move towards privatization that will restrict the availability of care for the city’s most vulnerable patients in need of mental health services.

KELLY HAYES, OCCUPY CHICAGO: This is an ongoing austerity issue it’s a march towards privatization that the city has been fighting for for years, initially they said tough choices budget cuts we have no choice this is what has to happen when we continuously pointed out that they managed to find a million dollar increase for lawn mowing services and graffiti removal and 3 million dollars is a drop in the bucket in a billion dollar budget, they said oh no it’s about providing better care, their talking points keep changing but the reality remains the same they are taking actions that will cause people to die.

VOICEOVER: The Occupy Movement has joined in on the fight to save the clinics that has largely been led by the patients themselves. Care recipients and advocates have been engaged in a number of ongoing protests and public awareness campaigns, and at one point a group attempted to barricade themselves inside and briefly occupy the Woodlawn Mental Health Clinic slated for immediate closure in April. They have maintained a constant vigil at 2 of the closed centers, and also demonstrated outside of City Hall and more recently in front of the Mayor’s home. Several dozen people have been arrested in the series of actions. Linda Hatcher used to be a client of the Woodlawn Mental Health Clinic before it was closed in April. She and others are worried about the effects the closures are having on those who have been unable to relocate or adjust to a new caregiver at a different site.

LINDA HATCHER, FORMER CLIENT, WOODLAWN MENTAL HEALTH CLINIC: Since they’ve lost some of the clinics, some of the people are getting on drugs some people getting high some people drinking some people not in their right state of mind some people don’t have their medication or don’t have their therapist that they can go and talk to that they can have someone to reach out to them.

VOICEOVER: Some worry about the costly impacts that the closures could have on emergency rooms and jails, which will be forced to absorb and provide care to more patients with mental health problems. Dan Bader used to work as a clinical therapist at Northtown Rogers Park Mental Health Center before it was closed in April. He has since relocated to one of the remaining open centers, where both himself and a large influx of uninsured care seekers have already been feeling the pressure of the centers’ increased case loads.

DAN BADER, CLINICAL THERAPIST, CHICAGO PUBLIC MENTAL HEATH SERVICES: When they shut down the 6 clinics they also laid off about 40-45 percent of the clinical staff so those who remain are going to immediately have huge caseloads, I have about 60 people for example, who I do not know, who are coming from therapists who have been laid off, these consumers these clients are very upset about that and now they have to try to adjust to me and I have to get to know 60 people at once plus we have new people coming in from the neighborhoods who also want services, I had about 30 or so I carried over with me from Northtown Rogers Park I have a base line of about 90 clients which will continue to grow it’s hard to take care of people effectively and efficiently when there are so many.

VOICEOVER: On May 25th, the Illinois legislature approved $1.6 billion dollars in Medicaid spending cuts as health services for Chicago’s poorer populations continue to face the chopping block under city and state budget austerity measures.


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