Mental health activists concerned about potential service cuts and privatization will hold a town hall meeting Friday with Chicago Health Commissioner Bechara Choucair.
Mental health providers and consumers will join Choucair on a panel, Friday, August 5, 5:30 p.m., in the Joyce Auditorium of Mercy Hospital, 2525 S. Michigan, 2nd floor.
The groups are demanding to be included in a task force on city-county collaboration formed by Mayor Emanuel and County President Preckwinkle.
Discussion of merging city and county health services in June report from the task force included “language that seems to be a coded way of saying we need to look at privatization,” said Matt Ginsberg-Jaeckle of Southside Together Organizing for Power . Along with the Community Mental Health Board of Chicago  and AFSCME Council 31 , STOP is sponsoring the town hall.
“We don’t think a merger is the answer,” said Ginsberg-Jaeckle, arguing it could lead to service reductions and pave the way to privatization.
With privatization, “there would be no accountability, no one to complain to, no guarantee that the same services would be provided,” he said.
When North Carolina privatized community-based mental health services, “it was a disaster,” he said. “The lines exploded, the number of mental health patients who were incarcerated went way up, and there were big cost overruns.”
They’re also concerned that the city’s 2012 budget will include service cuts. “The total money spent on mental health clinics is miniscule, it’s .03 percent of the city budget,” said Ginsberg-Jaeckle. The city currently spends $6 million on mental health clinics; advocates estimate it would take $15 million to have a fully-funded operation.
The city and county won’t end up saving money if the cuts mean that more people end up in emergency rooms, in jails, or in morgues, Ginsberg-Jaeckle said. (See the Mental Health Movement’s letter to Emanuel .)
When former Mayor Daley proposed closing four South Side mental health clinics two years ago, STOP members sat in at his office and forced him to reverse the plan.