Chicago Dept. of Health under fire over Mental Health Care

After two years of appealing to aldermen for a hearing, mental health advocates finally got their say today.

In 2012, Mayor Rahm Emanuel called for reforms in mental health care in his first budget. It included closing half of the city’s 12 mental health clinics.

At Tuesday’s hearing at City Hall, a question posed by Chicago’s Public Health Commissioner got a loud response.

“Is the mental health system today better than it was two years ago,” asked Dr. Bechara Choucair.

“No!” Shouted many of the approximately 150 in the crowded council chambers.

“Absolutely yes,” Choucair said back.

Today, patients and their advocates, told their stories; of how closing 6 of the 12 city-run mental health centers two years ago was the wrong decision.

“How people were affected, how people lost their lives when the clinics were closed,” said N’Dana Carter, a mental health care advocate and patient.

“[It's become] where jails became the place with mental health issues to live [after the closures],” Carter added.

2nd Ward Alderman Robert Fioretti, who voted for the closures in 2012, stood by the mental health advocates, calling his vote “one of the worst I’ve ever made.”

He says the reforms didn’t work.

“My top priority as a result of these hearing is that the Chicago dept of public health clinics must join Medicaid provider networks like County Care,” Fioretti said to applause.

Inside the hearing, a different version of events, as Choucair told the crowd treatments have improved and the number of the city’s mentally Ill being treated has increased.

“Make no mistake,” said Choucair, “our efforts have meant thousands more are getting mental health services than before.”

The big question. Will this hearing lead to any changes?

Alderman Fioretti, who’s eyeing a run for mayor, says he will try to push to reopen clinic and increase funding in the next budget.

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