Franklin James Cook

Chicago Group Is a Model for Local Mental Health Advocacy

In Advocacy, Mental Illness, Stigma on January 15, 2009 at 1:42 pm

ORIGINAL REPORT — Staff writer Megan Cottrell reports in the Chi Town Daily News on “members of the group Coalition to Save our Mental Health Centers” who recently “were shocked to find out that North River [Mental Health Center] is set to close its doors at the end of the month.

“It’s absolutely appalling to find out that the center is closing,” says Linda Forbes, pastor of Sauganash Community Church. “Where are the families going to go that need care?”

North River is just one of five centers around the city that will be closed this year by the Chicago Department of Public Health. The department will consolidate these centers into the seven remaining centers that are spread across the city on Feb. 1.

City officials explain that the restructuring is linked to reductions in funding, “most notably a $1.2 million cut from the state,” arguing that the seven remaining centers will be able to provide more efficient, more effective services than the current 12 centers for which “resources have been spread very thin.”

“Right now we have a patchwork situation that makes no sense,” [says Dr. Terry Mason, head of the Department of Public Health]. “What we’re doing will result in care that is consistent and complete.”

“We will not drop any of our patients,” says Tim Hadac, spokesperson for the Department of Public Health. “All patients are being welcomed at the remaining CDPH clinics, if they choose.”

But, of course, accessibility and efficiency often work against one another.

Organizers in North River’s surrounding community say asking the center’s 450 severely mentally ill patients to travel across the city for services is nearly impossible.

“It’s gonna take us three hours at least,” says Lourdes Adrianzen, a patient at North River who lives in Kilbourn Park. “I have to take the bus to the red line. It would take me an hour and a half just to get there.”

In the face of the budget cuts that could be forthcoming in communities everywhere, the care of the mentally ill is going to have to be considered not only in terms of short-term costs but also in terms of a community’s priorities.

“We seem to be involved in more glamorous battles these days, and we forget about those people who need our help,” says [Alderman William Banks].

“How can Chicago afford to have the 2016 Olympics if we cannot afford to help the needy and the mentally ill?” [Forbes] says. “How can we dare to present ours as a first-rate city and give third- or fifth-rate care to the citizens?”

And the Chi Town article closes with an essential point that is ultimately of vital interest across Americal:

Department of Public Health officials say the issue of mental health funding isn’t a problem at the city level — it’s a battle that’s been waging for years on the national stage, for more federal funding.

“For decades, mental health care has long been neglected in our nation’s capital–treated like a poor and unwanted cousin,” says Mason [of the Department of Public Health]. “I am hopeful that with a new President and a new Congress firmly committed to fully-funded health care reform, in 2009 we will at long last see movement in the right direction.”

Chicago’s Coalition to Save our Mental Health Centers is noteworthy because it provides a model for local advocacy; for instance, the coalition’s website is an effective springboard for community action, and its resources include tools such as a locally produced video that superbly tells the story of the group’s efforts.

[The abridged URL for this post is  http://tinyurl.com/AdvocacyModel .]

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