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Demand For City-Funded Mental Health Clinics To Take Center Stage At City Hall — Again

Half of the city's mental health clinics were closed more than seven years ago.

Activists speak at a 2014 news conference about the city's shuttered mental health clinics.
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DOWNTOWN — More than seven years after all 50 aldermen went along with Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s proposal to close six of the city’s 12 mental health clinics, triggering vehement protests and national attention, aldermen will call for a new task force to consider reopening some of the clinics.

The Committee on Health and Environmental Protection will meet at 1 p.m. Wednesday to consider a measure introduced by Ald. Sophia King (4th) calling for the creation of a Public Mental Health Clinic Service Expansion Task Force “to determine which community areas are in need for re-opening of mental health clinics.”

The task force would be charged with “identifying budgetary and operational recommendations for expansion of existing facilities and a third-party research entity to conduct study.”

Forty-two aldermen have signed on to King’s measure.

The city’s 2019 budget included an additional $1.4 million for mental health services, which the mayor’s office said “builds on mental health improvements and is aimed at filling remaining gaps in Chicago’s larger mental health infrastructure.”

The additional funds will be used by Chicago Department of Public Health facilities to offer walk-in psychiatric services, including crisis therapy and psychiatry care for residents, including those who may be uninsured.

It also allows the National Alliance for Mental Illness Chicago Helpline to expand services to include nights and weekends, provide additional language options and connect directly to the city’s 311 system, officials said.

An effort by a group of aldermen to take $25 million from the budget of the Chicago Department of Transportation to fund free mental health clinics throughout the city failed to get a vote or even discussion during this fall’s budget hearings.

While the 2011 clinic closures saved the city $3 million, Emanuel said the move was primarily designed to expand the types of treatment available to residents and deliver those services more efficiently.

The closures of clinics in Rogers Park, Logan Square, Woodlawn, Auburn-Gresham, Morgan Park and Back of the Yards remain a source of controversy, with a survey released in June finding that residents of the Southwest Side were still suffering as a result of the closures.

Chicago Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Julie Morita defended those closures to aldermen during the department’s budget hearings in October as “necessary and right.”

Despite the closures, city officials said more than 6,000 residents receive mental health services from the city and the department’s four health center partners — approximately 1,000 more residents served than in 2011.

Another clinic in Roseland is no longer city-run.

The Northwest Side is slated to get a new mental health clinic after Logan Square, Hermosa and Avondale residents overwhelmingly voted in November to fund a mental health clinic in the area. 

A small group of aldermen earlier this year said they regretted their past votes to close six of the city’s 12 mental health clinics.

The task force would include two aldermen from wards which contained one of the six mental health clinics closed in 2012, two representatives of the Chicago Department of Health, two representatives of American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees Council 31, and two representatives of the Chicago Community Mental Health Board.

The measure requires the Health Committee to hold a public hearing in 45 days — which would be just about the same time aldermen are up for re-election — to allow Chicagoans to weigh in on the need to reopen the clinics. The task force will have 180 days to report its findings to aldermen.

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