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City Council Finally Holds Long Overdue Hearings On Mental Health Clinic Closures

By aaroncynic in News on Aug 20, 2014 9:50PM

Protesters march against the closure of local mental health clinics in July 2012. (Photo credit: Aaron Cynic/Chicagoist)

Mental health professionals, patients and advocates finally received an opportunity to testify before the Chicago City Council Health Committee Tuesday, two years after Chicago closed half of its neighborhood mental health clinics. Critics have contended that, since the closings, patients have suffered greatly from lack of access to proper resources and, as a result, those who relied on the clinics have ended up hospitalized, incarcerated or dead.

N’Dana Carter, an activist with the Mental Health Movement, said despite assertions from Chicago Commissioner of Public Health Dr. Bechara Choucair that things are “moving in the right direction,” they’re doing anything but.

"Dr. Choucair said that everyone would be monitored,” said Carter. “Everyone would receive mental health care. No one was monitored. Many have not received mental health care. We don't know where a lot of our people have gone," Carter said. "We do know that some of those people have committed suicide.”

Heather O’Donnell, a vice president at Thresholds, one of the city’s largest non-profit mental health care organizations, said the City’s mental health care system has been in crisis for too long:

“It is terribly underfunded, resulting in literally thousands of people with serious mental illnesses that are treatable to go without diagnosis and treatment for decades and even life.”

Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) and Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) joined the chorus of disapproval for the state of the City’s mental health care services and offered apologies for voting to close the clinics. Fioretti called his vote to close the clinics the “worst decision” he’s ever made:

“We were told certain information. And if we would've had other information that vote would never have happened that way.”

While the long overdue hearings are a step in the right direction, the City has a long way to go in finding a way to fix caring for those in need of mental health care. Unfortunately, seeing as Cook County Jail is the largest mental health care provider in Chicago and Mayor Rahm Emanuel hasn’t even really been able to publicly justify closing the clinics, it’s anyone’s guess how or when— if ever— the City will work to fix the crisis.

According to WGN, Fioretti says he’ll push to reopen clinics and increase funding. If the City Council can put a rubber stamp on that the way they did when they closed the clinics, it would at least be a step in the right direction.