April 13, 2012

Clinics closed; battle for city mental health services continues

May 1 update: Six of Chicago's 12 Department of Public Health clinics have shut their doors, but the battle for the services those clinics provide to city residents continues.

May 1 update:  Six of Chicago's 12 Department of Public Health clinics have shut their doors, but the battle for the services those clinics provide to city residents continues.

A group of mental health advocates, clinic consumers and community activists sat in at City Hall on April 30, the last day of operations for four of the clinics, trying once again to get a meeting with Mayor Rahm Emanuel. His Honor continued to stonewall, but his police played an active role, arresting five of the protesters.

Once city hall closed down, the protesters came outside for a press conference where a number of prominent supporters joined clinicians and consumers in talking to a large group of assembled media and supporters from STOP, Occupy Chicago and other groups.

Dr. Quentin Young, longtime activist on health-care issues; Dr. David Ansell, chief medical officer at Rush University Medical Center; and Dr. Anne Scheetz, from Physicians for a National Health Plan were among the speakers.

April 24 Update:  The battle to keep Chicago Department of Public Health's Mental Health Clinics continues, with two of the clinics -- Northwest and Northtown/Rogers Park already shuttered.  The rest are scheduled for closure on Monday, April 30.

The Mayor has targeted four other mental health centers operated by CDPH for immediate closure: Woodlawn, Auburn-Gresham, Back of the Yards and Beverly-Morgan Park. 

Seven primary care clinics are also targeted for privatization: Englewood, Lower West, Roseland, South Chicago Women & Children, South Lawndale Women & Children, Uptown Neighborhood and West Town.

On two coming Saturdays, May 5 and 19, the union will hold informational pickets and community marches at each of the seven clinics scheduled for privatization, to help draw attention to the damage that privatization will do. Click here for a flyer with more details.

The occupation of the Woodlawn clinic moved outdoors after police hauled the occupiers out of the clinic on April 13. The protesters have been occupying the vacant lot across from the clinic, but police cleared out their tents and arrested 10 of the occupiers on the night of April 23.  Click here for a Chicago Tribune report.

The occupation continues across from the clinic, which is at 6337 S. Woodlawn Ave., and the Rev. Jesse Jackson's Rainbow PUSH Coalition and Father Michael Pfleger have just announced that they will join the effort.

In a press release from the Mental Health Movement, that group said:

"The Emanuel administration refuses to listen to patients, healthcare workers, and advocates who are fighting to save public mental health services in Chicago. Mayor Emanuel is denying all requests for a public hearing, and is ignoring hundreds of letters, thousands of petition signatures, continued protests, and now the 12-day, 24-hour occupation across the street from the Woodlawn clinic.

"Patients have been assigned to new clinics and told when they arrive for a first appointment that they are not accepted," says Anne Scheetz, MD, FACP, who volunteers at the Northwest Mental Health Clinic, which was recently closed. "The wait for a first appointment at a new clinic is 45 days. Therapists and patients were assigned to one clinic, only to have the assignment changed with no notice to the patients who therefore missed their appointments. Monolingual Spanish patients are assigned to clinics where the therapists but not the staff speak Spanish -- thus, they can't make or change appointments or ask questions."

The union continues to lobby City Council members to urge them to put pressure on Mayor Emanuel to reverse course on the CDPH budget cuts, most recently through a letter signed by 50 mental health clinic staff raising deep concerns over the availability of mental health services to clients if looming budget cuts and clinic closures go forward. If you haven't already done so, be sure to call your alderman to urge him or her to speak out against the CDPH clinic closures and privatization.

STOP, a community organization that has led the opposition to the clinic closures, and a group of the clinics' consumers, barricaded themselves into the clinic on April 12 to dramatize the consequences of Emanuel's actions.

Outside, nurses, clergy, local residents, AFSCME members and other allies -- as many as 40 as of 10 p.m. --sat in front of the doors to protect their friends within. No less than 14 Chicago Police Department vehicles, along with several County Sheriff's department cruisers, had blockaded the section of Woodlawn between 63rd and 64th Streets. After the news media left around 10:15, plainclothes cops in hoodies and jeans arrived. The atmosphere began to feel a bit more tense, as those assembled outside began speculating as to when the police would move in and try to remove the occupiers by force. -- Gapersblock blog

That happened around midnight, and by 1 a.m. they were hauling the occupiers out.

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