Emanuel: Mental health clinic closures mean more patients served
BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter email@example.com April 24, 2012 5:54PM
Mayor Rahm Emanuel speaks to the press after a city council meeting which voted in favor of the new anti-speeding cameras in Chicago. | Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times
Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Tuesday he’s giving free CTA passes to patients served by Chicago’s shuttered mental health clinics to ease the burden of a consolidation that will force them to travel farther to get the service they need to survive.
Dozens of mental health patients and activists have been arrested in recent days while protesting Emanuel’s decision to close six of the city’s twelve mental health centers. Two of the clinics have already been closed. Four others are expected to shut down in the coming weeks.
Not only have the protesters barricaded themselves into targeted clinics. They have stepped up their efforts to disrupt Emanuel’s public appearances. On Sunday, the mayor was jeered while planting a tree for Arbor Day, then hustled away by bodyguards to avoid the protesters.
On Tuesday, the mayor told reporters he was not responsible for authorizing the arrests. He attempted to portray the cuts as an improvement in mental health services.
“We’re actually adding patients who were denied service because we didn’t have the resources. ... We added patients — a little over a thousand. … And because of the reforms, we’re putting $500,000 into psychiatric care that we could not do before, but always had debated,” the mayor said.
“At the two clinics that have now been closed, we gave each of the patients a CTA card ... so they could get to the new place and start that transition easier. … One of the concerns I heard from the patients was, `We’re gonna be going to a new place.’ So we made changes. We’re giving them a CTA card for the first month so the inconvenience … was least disruptive to them.”
Emanuel noted that he worked diligently on mental health issues during his time in the Clinton White House and as a North Side congressman.
“Now, I understand peoples’ protests. They have a right to do that. If there was an arrest dealing with trespassing for other issues, I’ll look into it. But, I want people to remember: I take the issue of providing benefits and care to those who need mental health benefits seriously,” the mayor said.
“We’re not pulling back from service. In fact, we’re giving more service to more people, and we’re adding a new benefit. And in all this debate — while there’s been a focus obviously on people [who] are upset about it — just a couple facts to clear the room and clear the air in the room. If you stuck with the old way, fewer people who need it would be getting it. If you stuck with the old way, we wouldn’t be offering psychiatric care.”
Mental health advocates want the mayor to double the “yacht tax” that boat owners pay to moor their boats to stave off the clinic closings.
Their plan calls for doubling — to 14 percent — a seven percent boat mooring tax that raised $1.32 million in 2010. That would generate $1.32 million of the $2 million needed to keep all six clinics open.
The remaining $680,000 could be cut from the Health Department’s budget — by eliminating the jobs of three new deputy commissioners; wiping out $450,000 for surveys or by eliminating a $72,608 increase in the department’s advertising budget, advocates said.