Meeting at City Hall Regarding the City’s Mental Health Services

Community Mental Health Board, Next Steps & Southside Together Organizing for Power (STOP)
813 E. 63rd St – Chicago, IL 60637 – (773) 355-8222 –

Statement on Meeting at City Hall Regarding the City’s Mental Health Services

September 10th, 2009

Today a “special meeting on the status of the City’s mental health services,” convened by Mayor Daley’s Deputy Chief of Staff Evelyn Diaz, was held at City Hall.  Those most directly affected by this issue – the mentally ill, the public providers who serve them and the communities whose stability depends on these services – were conspicuously absent from the list of invitees. To exclude these voices is to repeat exactly the mistake that led to this crisis in the first place.

While we are disappointed that the meeting excluded the voices of those most directly affected, we are cautiously optimistic that the city realizes the importance of public mental health services and we hope to see a commitment moving forwards to work towards their preservation. City officials at the meeting confirmed that no clinics will be closed or consolidated at the present time, though their comments give us reason to worry that long-term privatization may still be on their agenda.

Amongst numerous private providers and city and state officials, our coalition, whose actions led to the meeting in the first place, was allowed only three invitations. Our representatives included AFSCME Council 31 Public Policy Director Anne Irving, and Community Mental Health Board President Darryl Gumm and Vice President Badonna Reingold. They put forth our position, which is that:

1) The purpose of the meetings should be to figure out how to keep all of the City mental health clinics open and adequately staffed. In our view, to make this happen the City needs to fix its billing problems, increase its staffing, and do everything possible to increase the proportion of city and state resources that go to mental health.

2) Those directly affected by the issue being discussed, including consumers, workers and community members, need to be at this table and participate fully in all future meetings

3) This and all future meetings should be open for the public to observe

Wishing to help correct the City’s error, we also brought several other representatives of our coalition who are directly affected by these issues to contribute to today’s dialogue. They were not allowed to sit at the table to hear the discussions that affect their lives. We hope that in future meetings the City will realize that it is doing a disservice to itself and the citizens of Chicago to exclude the voices of those whose input is invaluable to the resolution of this crisis.

We are also concerned at the absence of other entities which have to deal with the failure to provide these services, such as the police department’s Crisis Intervention Team (CIT), firemen, and Cook County officials. Additionally, representatives of Healthcare and Family Services, the Department of Corrections and the city of Chicago Family Support Services should also have been at the table because they are responsible for providing many of the human services that some consumers need.

We recognize this “special meeting” as the direct result of our efforts and our sacrifices. In response to the Department of Public Health announcing plans last December to close four mental health centers, we took the fight to keep the centers open all the way to city hall and obtained a commitment from the mayor’s Chief of Staff Paul Volpe that the centers would not be closed.

The commitment was not limited to keeping the centers open. As we stated in our letter to Mr. Volpe, our long term goal is that of ensuring the availability of publicly funded and administered quality community mental health services to the citizens of Chicago. It was in pursuit of this goal that we presented as one of our demands the formation of a task force including mental health consumers, community advocates, and workers at the clinics to move towards ensuring the sustainability of the city’s mental health services. Mr. Volpe agreed to this request.

We hope that moving forward the City will make good on its commitment to work with us in an open, inclusive process towards the resolution of the current crisis and towards a long-term planning process to address the needs of Chicago’s mentally ill population and their communities.


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