Occupy Mental Health!

While riding the El down to the Monday morning press conference by Chicago’s Mental Health Movement, I couldn’t help but reflect on Rahm’s Emanuel’s problems with obsessive-compulsive disorder. He is obsessive about funneling money to Chicago’s wealthy and compulsive about his attacks on services for Chicago’s working class. Rahm’s latest offensive is the closing of 6 mental health centers.  

The issue of closing mental health clinics first came up last fall during the protests surrounding Mayor Emanuel’s proposed budget, which also included slashing library services, privatization of neighborhood health clinics and layoffs of public employees. There was an hours long sit-in outside the Mayors office demanding that all mental health clinics remain open. Below is a video produced shortly after the fall round of protests.

OUR LIVES ON THE LINE: Voices from Chicago’s mental health clinics

Last Thursday night (April 12), a group of patients and mental health workers barricaded themselves inside the Woodlawn Mental Health Center on the South Side to protest its closure. Early the next morning on April 13, police used  tools to break through the door and arrested 23 people who were inside.  

Inside the Woodlawn Clinic before the bust:

Outside of the Clinic before the bust:

Together with with Occupy Chicago, protestors than set up a small tent village outside the clinic to rally support and gain news coverage after months of being ignored. The protests are being led by Southside Together Organizing for Power (STOP), a 5 year old community group. The Mental Health movement is a member of STOP. Occupy Chicago has helped organize people and gather supplies to keep the tent city protest going. The tent city endured a couple of rough nights due to bad weather but is still holding strong. 

WGN TV reports on the tent encampment:

At the Monday morning press conference clinic patients and mental health workers who had been arrested told of not being screened for possible mental health episodes, of having their medication denied to them and being ridiculed by jail personnel. One woman said that she was groped by a male officer in her vaginal area under the guise of being searched, a search that should only be conducted by a female officer. 

There was fear expressed that if clinics are closed, there will be more police brutality toward mental patients, more drug addiction, more self-destructive behavior and more suicides as patients seek help elsewhere, a help that may not be forthcoming as many of these patients are indigent. 

Later the group met with the  officials of the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) who tried to reassure people that their needs would be taken care of by the CDPH “partner institutions”, as well as the remaining public clinics. This was met by deep skepticism by the Mental Health Movement activists who told of people already being turned away after referrals. One woman gave details about the understaffed Greater Lawn Mental Health Center whose workers cried when they had to turn away new patients. 

The term “partner institutions” is just a gussied-up term for privatization, and private health care has no interest in patients that don’t generate a profit.

The Mental Health Movement issued a 23 page report last January with the help of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). I have quoted from that report below. For the full report, please go HERE

Dumping Responsibility:The Case Against Closing CDPH Mental Health Clinics 

  • The city’s claimed cost savings are tiny and illusory. CDPH claims closing clinics will save $2 million—barely 1% of its $169 million annual budget. And this claim ignores the budgetary, societal and human costs of inevitable disruptions in patient care—including increased emergency room visits, hospitalization, police intervention and incarceration.
  • CDPH should cut waste—including $1.67 million in new spending on upper management salaries, outside contracts, advertising and surveys. This amount should be used to sustain and improve city MH clinics.
  • CDPH would transfer at least 1,100 Medicaid patients to private providers— effectively giving away federal reimbursement for their services. If this plan is budget-driven, it is illogical to turn away patients with the ability to pay.
  • Closing six clinics will force 2,549 patients to travel to other city clinics or seek private care. There is no guarantee that private providers and hospitals will offer treatment regardless of ability to pay. The system’s more than 3,000 uninsured individuals are least likely to find private care since such providers already face shrinking budgets and reduced state funding.
  • CDPH is rushing to close clinics in just eight weeks—despite having six months of funding in the budget and nothing but an outline of a plan for patient care. CDPH has circulated a list of private providers, but admits it has no formal agreements with or information regarding capacity, services and wait times from these agencies.

 As I sat in on the meeting with the Department of Public Health this morning, I thought of my own struggles with depression, of being lost in that long dark tunnel of despair and on at least two occasions, wondering if I was going to come out alive. Fortunately I had access to some limited treatment, even though my health insurance didn’t cover it because it was a pre-existing condition. When people are in that kind of state, it’s difficult for them to fight their inner demons, much less ones with the power of the Mayor’s Office and the LaSalle Street financial barons. My heart goes out to the brave patients of the Woodlawn clinic.

 But despite all of the facts presented and the personal stories told, the Mayor’s obsessive catering to the wealthy and his compulsive dissing of the working class goes on unabated. Mr. Mayor, don’t you think that’s a little crazy?

Faces of Chicago’s Mental Health Movement

Mental Health Movement

Mental Health Movement


Mental Health Movement

Mental Health Movement


Sources consulted: 

Rallying against mayor’s plan to close mental health facilities  by Kaley Fowler

Activists Set Up New Encampment At Clinic In Woodlawn  by aaroncynic

Southside Together Organizing for Power

Politics in Woodlawn: Occupation of the Mental Health Clinic by Ramsin Canon

Protesters Stage Sit-In Of Woodlawn Mental Health Clinic by aaroncynic

Dumping Responsibility: The Case Against Closing CDPH Mental Health Clinics by the Mental Health Movement and AFSCME Council 31




April 16, 2012 by
Filed under: Society & Economy, U.S. Healthcare 


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