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Charge city ‘dumping’ mental health

[UPDATED]  With six mental health clinics set to close next month, activists say the private community clinics that are supposed to take many city patients are already turning them away – one of many signs that the city’s claims of improving services and efficiency are a screen for an agenda of dumping mental health services entirely.

Mental Health Movement activists and workers from city mental health centers and public health clinics slated for closing will protest outside 13 threatened facilities at 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 6. They’ll also be marching on three aldermanic offices (see below).

Big crowds are expected at the Northwest Mental Health Center, 2354 N. Milwaukee – one of two centers serving Latino populations, both of which are being shut down – and at the Woodlawn center, 6337 S. Woodlawn, where the Mental Health Movement has a strong base, and where the local alderman has promised to introduce a resolution calling for hearings on the closings.

Press conferences will be held at 5:15 p.m. at three clinics: Northwest (2354 N Milwaukee Ave.), Northtown/Rogers Park (1607 W Howard St.) and Auburn-Gresham (1140 W 79th St.).

“Private providers are turning people away,” said N’Dana Carter, who represents the MHM on a city health department committee overseeing clinic transitions.

She said the sole private community mental health service on the South Side, Community Mental Health Council, was not responding to calls for appointments from people referred by city clinics. She told of one woman who managed to get an appointment but was turned away when she came to the center at the scheduled time.

A staff person at CMHC said the center was accepting Medicaid patients and welcomes patients who’ve been pre-approved for Medicaid by the city.

Carter said that at a recent transition committee meeting, there was no discussion when a city clinic director reported on private providers turning away city clients. (A major topic of discussion at the meetings is who will get the furniture from facilities slated for closure, she said.)

Carter said she later put the issue directly to Deputy Commissioner Tony Beltran, who is overseeing the closings. According to Carter, he told her, “We can’t make the providers take anybody.”

“They talk about consolidation and improving services, but they’re just placating people to justify the fact that they don’t want to provide services any more,” said Darryl Gumm, chair of the Community Mental Health Board, which advises the department under a federal mandate.

“Mental health is something that can be dealt with – treatment works,” he emphasized, stressing its public safety value. “It should be as important as police and fire.”

South Side, Latinos losing services

Four of the six clinics slated for closing are on the South Side in areas designated as having a shortage of mental health services by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, according to a recent report from MHM. These communities need more – not fewer – services, the group says.

Also slated for closing are the two clinics serving predominantly Latino populations, the Northwest and Back of the Yards centers. Those centers serve areas with significant undocumented populations, who are far more likely to be without insurance – the segment the city claims it is focusing its resources on covering.

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Traffic camera concerns

Chicago now has one of the best red light camera deals in the country – and should be careful to maintain that distinction as it adds speed detectors to cameras around schools and parks, according to a new report from Illinois PIRG.

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Questions on recycling and privatization

With a pilot privatized recycling program set to launch Monday, the Chicago Recycling Coalition is concerned that residents haven’t been fully informed about changes in the program – and that “managed competition” with city workers will be fair and transparent.

“The first weeks could be a little bumpy,” said Mike Nowak of CRC.  Residents could be confused by possible schedule changes and may not understand if their recyclables are rejected due to contamination under a contract provision with private haulers, he said.

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Protest threat of city health clinic privatization

City clinic clients and community supporters will protest Tuesday against the threat of privatization at an event where Mayor Emanuel and Health Commissioner Bechara Choucair are speaking on “Transforming Healthcare in Chicago.”

Southside Together Organizing for Power and others – who stopped city efforts to close mental health clinics two years ago – will rally at 10 a.m., Tuesday, August 16, at the University Clulb, 76 E. Monroe.

Emanuel is said to be set to unveil a plan for the city’s health services next week [correction: it’s being released Tuesday, August 16].  In July he said he’d identified millions of dollars of savings by ordering city health clinics to partner with federally-qualified health centers, private nonprofits that operate clinics under federal grants and guidelines.

No details on how those savings would be accomplished have yet been forthcoming.

But last month, the city’s labor relations director wrote AFSCME Council 31 saying the city is considering contracting out services provided by its community health centers – and that job losses for union members could be expected.

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Mental health groups oppose cuts, privatization

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.

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Water privatization called a bad deal

“For years, there has been talk of privatizing all or parts of Chicago’s water system, including the Jardine and South filtration plants, city pumping stations, water billing functions or just the sewer system,” according to Fran Spielman in Monday’s Sun Times.

She’s reporting on a Civic Federation report to the next mayor on the city’s finances.  It reiterates the group’s call to “pursue alternative service delivery to reduce costs” and institute protections for revenues from asset leases.

A new report from Food and Water Watch lists Chicago among cities where water privatization is under active consideration.

The number of communities considering water privatization is up dramatically due to widespread budget crises, particularly among larger cities concentrated in the Rust Belt, according to the report.

Privatization is “not a smart way to balance budgets,” the group says.  While the public pays higher rates, cities often get less than full value for their assets, and the long-term costs of the lump-sum lease payments are significantly higher than the cost of municipal revenue bond financing.

In addition, it can undermine public pensions by transferring employees to the private sector, leaving fewer workers paying into public plans.

In fact, a number of communities are buying back privately-owned water systems in order to save money, according to the report.  Evansville, Indiana, is one; the city expects to save $14.5 million over the next five years after bringing water services in-house.

Food and Water Watch opposes all forms of privatization, including sale or lease of water systems as well as operation and management contracts with private companies, said organizer Emily Carroll.  “They have many of the same problems,” she said.  “Staffing is cut drastically in order to cut costs and boost profits” and “there simply isn’t enough staff to maintain water systems.”

Water main ruptures increase and water quality is jeopardized, she said.

Carroll points to Indianapolis, hailed by the water industry as a success story for privatization.  Under private operation since 2002 there have been boil warnings, lawsuits charging overbilling, and state and federal investigations of environmental violations.

In community meetings in Chicago, she said, “almost everyone we talk to is completely outraged at the idea.  If there’s one thing they don’t think should be privatized, it’s water.”

According to the group’s report, public opposition has derailed many attempts at water privatization.

Another coalition, spearheaded by Illinois PIRG, continues to push for a taxpayer protection ordinance that would require independent evaluation and public hearings on major long-term leases.  Last year 19 aldermen signed the coalition’s pledge for transparency and accountability in asset-lease deals.

“What we got from the parking meter deal was malfunctioning meters, rates that quadrupled overnight (and continue to climb), and the possibility that we are out about a billion dollars in lost revenue,” said Celeste Meiffren of Illinois PIRG. “Can you imagine if this happened with our municipal water system?”


Chicago water for sale? (October 20, 2009)

Water and privatization (April 18, 2010)

Grassroots voices on Chicago schools

Fifteen years of mayoral control has failed to improve Chicago Public Schools, yet leading mayoral candidates are promising more of the same – or worse.

In January the Chicago Tribune reported that achievement levels are no better in elementary schools opened under Mayor Daley’s Renaissance 2010 than in neighborhood public schools– and worse than average at his new high schools. (District-wide, according to Catalyst, “not much progress.”)

This despite millions of dollars pumped into new schools by Chicago’s business community – and “flexibility” which allows them to evade accountability and push out students they don’t want.  Catalyst and WBEZ reported last week that the rate of expulsions in Chicago’s charter schools is more than three times higher than other schools – and the vast majority of expulsions in charter schools are for misconduct that wouldn’t merit such punishment in general schools.

The business model that Renaissance 2010 followed has delivered widening achievement gaps, increased violence and fiscal insolvency, as Mike Klonsky writes. But it’s the essence of  Rahm Emanuel’s big, bold initiative – basically renaming the Renaissance Schools Fund (which, admittedly, is due for a name change) – which, PURE argues, would intensify the marginalization of schools serving the most challenging students.

So would the voucher schemes advanced by Gery Chico and James Meeks; in Meeks’s case, vouchers would benefit the private religious school he heads, which doesn’t accept students scoring beneath the 50th percentile on achievement tests.

But Renaissance 2010 also engendered an impressive grassroots movement to resist school closings and privatization plans that would create a two-tier school system.  That movement won several signal victories in recent months, including state legislation to bring transparency and accountability to CPS facilities planning, which has heavily favored Renaissance 2010 over neighborhood schools, and a victory for the Raise Your Hands Coalition and CTU when Mayor Daley freed up TIF surpluses, $90 million of which will go to schools.

Two more significant movement victories – the election of militant new CTU leadership committed to ground-level coalition organizing to bring teachers, parents, students and community groups together to defend schools, and the dramatic 43-day sit-in by parents at Whittier Elementary demanding a library for their kids – will be represented at the 10th annual curriculum fair of Teachers For Social Justice tomorrow.

CTU president Karen Lewis and Whittier leaders Araceli Gonzales and Daniela Mancilla will keynote the opening session of the fair, 10 a.m. (Saturday, November 20) at Orozco Community Academy, 1940 W. 18th.  In addition, spoken word artist Kevin Coval of Young Chicago Authors will perform with the Louder Than a Bomb All-Stars.

Six hundred teachers, students, parents, and community activists are expected at the fair, which will feature a series of workshops along with curriculum exhibits from Chicago teachers and presentations by teachers and students.

The business model of school reform may be stalled, but there’s no shortage of energy and creativity at the grassroots, and it will be on full display tomorrow.

Passed: Bill to aid public takeover of water systems

A bill to ease municipal acquisition of private water and sewer systems passed both houses of the General Assembly yesterday.

SB 3749, a version of an earlier bill sponsored by State Representative Renee Kosel (reported here in April) changes the way water and sewer systems are valued in eminent domain proceedings.  Previously valuation was based on projections of annual earnings; under the new law they would be based on the cost of acquisition for the existing utility.

That would remove the value of facilities built by developers and paid for by homeowners. The bill also allows depreciation to be taken into account.

Food and Water Watch is calling on Governor Quinn to sign the bill.

Dozens of suburban and downstate communities served by Illinois American Water Company, complaining of high rates and poor service, have discussed municipal takeovers.  According to the Tribune, IAW’s rates are more than four times those of neighboring communities with municipal ownership.  (For more see last October’s Newstip.)

In April, IAW rates in Chicago suburbs went up by 26 percent.  Yesterday IAW announced it would refund customers in Pekin who were charged nearly double the approved rates, the Peoria Journal-Star reports.

(In 2004 the Illinois Commerce Commission denied a petition by the City of Pekin to take over its water system from IAW.  Pekin cited high rates, burst pipies, and malfunctioning hydrants.  In 2006, mayors across the state backed a bill that eliminated the requirement of ICC approval for municipal takeovers of privately-operated water systems.)

Meanwhile, Melrose Park Mayor Ron Serpico announced today that seven communities served by the Melrose Park Water Consortium will receive rebates of over $700,000.   Northlake, Maywood, Melrose Park, and other communities contribute to retire debt incurred when the system was rebuilt in 1997, and the rebate is possible because “strong management practices have minimized the need for repairs and new equipment,” Serpico said.

Over the past three years the consortium has refunded over $3 million to member municipalities.

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