The Crusader Newspaper Group

No Safety Net for Mental Health Patients

By J. Coyden Palmer, Chicago Crusader

Citing the impending privatization of the Roseland Mental Health Clinic, 200 E. 115th St., patients are still struggling to find adequate care after Mayor Rahm Emanuel closed six mental health centers. More mental health patients are showing up in Cook County Jail, and mental health advocates say, “Chicago is on course for a mental health crisis of epic proportions.” Those words have been seconded by Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart.

Last week, two dozen protesters chained the doors shut to the Roseland site as a protest. For three hours, they prevented people from going in and out of the front door as one protester in a wheelchair chained himself to the doors inside. Another protester put a huge lock and chain on the front door. It was only after a S.W.A.T. team arrived and the locks were cut off, the doors of the facility were reopened.

Access to mental health treatment in Chicago continues to be a problem lawmakers and healthcare providers have yet to solve. The proposed privatization of the Roseland clinic by Community Counseling Centers of Chicago (C4) means there will be even more uncertainty.

Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) supports the privatization plan put forth by Emanuel, but many think it is a bad move.

imagejpeg 0 1N’Dana Carter says her major concern is that by privatizing the clinic, it means that if the business running it does not feel they are making enough money, they can decide to close it without warning, leaving many patients out in the cold.

She said such sudden closure has already happened at one clinic on the city’s North Side that was operated by Community Counseling Centers of Chicago (C4)—the same group slated to take over the Roseland clinic. Carter fears if it were to happen again in Roseland, it would have a devastating effect on the South Side as the clinic services over 400 people a month.

“This clinic serves six different communities,” said protester Diane Adams. “We cannot monitor C4, but we can monitor the city. The city had to bail them out before when they almost went broke. We’re not trying to cause problems, but we need to save this clinic. This area here is a high-crime area and all the stats show the highest crime areas in the city also have the least amount of mental health services.”

What Carter and others want is a safety net in place that will allow patients access to care should the clinic closes. Carter said simple things like recommendations on where they can go to receive care would be helpful.

Inside sources say the Roseland Mental Health Clinic is the only clinic with a full-time psychiatrist within the entire City of Chicago’s Department of Mental Health. The clinic sees over 400 patients a month. More than 100 patients will lose follow-up care if the Roseland MHC closes on Dec. 16. Although C4 recently received grant funds through County Care as well as an additional grant, C4 is unable to hire staff and contractual psychiatrists to do telepsychiatry and treat patients before Dec. 16.

At least 31 aldermen have signed off on a proposed ordinance that would give some protections to mental health patients. The Mental Health Safety Net Ordinance is being sponsored by Ald. Jason Ervin (28th).

Among other things, it calls for the Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Julie Morita to adequately staff all mental health centers with psychiatrists within four months passage of the ordinance. It also calls for mental health workshops in communities disproportionately affected by violence and for the commissioner to enter into contracts with three managed-care entities for reimbursement for health care services provided to individuals with Medicaid health plans.

The ordinance has yet to be presented to the full City Council for a vote. It has been tied up in the health committee, and there is no timetable if it will ever come to the Council floor.

Carter said that this is one of the most frustrating things she and other activists have to deal with. She said while the ordinance sits in committee, people are suffering. The ordinance recognizes there are significant challenges with staffing, insufficient community outreach and billing problems. It also acknowledges that some patients have been turned away from services when the Illinois Department of Human Services indicated a plan to shift Medicaid recipients to a managed-care plan.

“We’ve had people left out in the cold literally because of the city’s poor management,” Carter said. “You can’t have people in need of medication waiting weeks because they can’t get their prescriptions filled because there hasn’t been a doctor available to renew their scripts. It’s a dangerous gamble the city is taking that will have horrible results.”

Nicole Pruitt is one of those who got caught up when C4 closed one of its clinics last year. Pruitt had to turn to street drugs to self-medicate.

She told the Crusader when the clinic closed without warning, they gave her no help or directions on where to go to get services. She said there are many others stuck in the same situation. It took her over a year to be seen by a doctor and get her prescriptions back on track. She said during that time she could have died.

“It’s a terrible thing I went through. Every place I tried to get help turned me away and I really didn’t understand what I was doing wrong or right. I was in dire need of help and the city abandoned me,” she said.

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