Aldermen unhappy about Emanuel’s mental health clinic closings
BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporterfirstname.lastname@example.org October 25, 2011 5:00PM
Alderman Nick Sposato during todays City Council meeting in the Council Chambers at City Hall. Thursday, July 28, 2011 | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times
Updated: October 25, 2011 5:42PM
Chicago aldermen on Tuesday ripped Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to close six mental health clinics, fully fund just two of them and have seven city health clinics partner with federally-qualified health centers.
“We’re leaving many people with nowhere to turn. In the long run, it’s going to be very costly in tax dollars and suffering because people will not get the care they need. They’ll be ending up in emergency rooms and jails,” said Ald. Nick Sposato (36th).
Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) focused on the 53 Health Department employees who stand to lose their jobs in 2012.
“Most of these layoffs are minorities. That’s a big concern,” Burnett said.
Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) warned that the consolidation of mental health clinics would force patients to travel long distances “outside their comfort zone” and asked Health Commissioner Bechara Choucair whether he had consulted with Chicago Police about the closing.
When Choucair said he had not, Waguespack pointed to the July 2008 death of Chicago Police Officer Richard Francis.
Francis was answering a disturbance call on a CTA bus when he was shot and killed by a woman with a history of violent seizures who grabbed his gun during a struggle. Just a few days before, the same woman had pulled a knife on one of her daughters.
“We’re putting police officers in a difficult position,” Waguespack said.
Over and over, Choucair insisted that the cuts were carefully considered and that mental health patients would be better served at lower cost to Chicago taxpayers.
“I’m confident we’re enhancing services,” the commissioner said.
Of all the cuts in the mayor’s first budget, the health and library cuts have drawn the most fire during City Council budget hearings.
Emanuel wants to lay off 53 Health Department employees and eliminate 25 vacant positions.
Six of the city’s 12 mental health clinics would be closed, and only two of the remaining six would be fully-funded. The budget also calls for implementing the mayor’s summer plan to have seven city health clinics partner with federally-qualified health centers.
Henry Bayer, executive director of AFSCME Council 31, called the Health Department cuts the most devastating cost-cutting in the mayor’s first budget.
“If you presented this budget to [Republican House Speaker] John Boehner in Congress, he’d pass it in a minute. I hope the City Council won’t,” Bayer said.
“The mayor is cutting into basic services and laying off hundreds of front-line employees who provide those vital services. When we actually see who is being laid off, I suspect it’ll be largely females and minorities.”
Top mayoral aides have insisted that the city was “reinvesting $500,000 in enhanced psychiatry services and care coordination” in the consolidated mental health clinics. That’s a move, they claim that would provide “improved service at a lower cost.”
“The city will maintain services for those most in need — uninsured patients — but provide the services in a more cost-effective manner. The city will actually be able to increase services provided and save $3 million,” Kathleen Strand, a spokesperson for the city’s Office of Budget and Management, said earlier this month.
She noted that all 3,000 uninsured patients would continue to be served by the city.