Bechara Couchair – Chicago Newstips by Community Media Workshop Chicago Community Stories Mon, 08 Jan 2018 18:45:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Charge city ‘dumping’ mental health Tue, 06 Mar 2012 01:49:25 +0000 [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.

Most of the department’s Spanish-speaking therapists have been laid off, according to MHM. (All the department’s black male therapists have been laid off, the group says.)

Downward spiral

Other indications that the “consolidation” is less about improving services than shutting them down, according to the MHM:

While this year’s caseload reductions are projected at 20 percent, staff is being cut by 34 percent.

This perpetuates a long downward spiral of cutting staffing and services and then using resulting decreases in patients served to justify further cuts, the group says.

And past experience shows that more patients will fall through the cracks when they’re shifted to new clinics in unfamiliar neighborhoods.

The city is forgoing revenue that supports mental health services by sending Medicaid patients to private providers.

Meanwhile those providers, struggling with Medicaid cuts and late payments from the state, are steadily reducing the number of clients they serve – down nearly 20 percent from 2007 to 2011 statewide.

The city is setting aside $500,000 to fund psychiatric services by private providers at $150 an hour – after claiming for years that it was unable pay more than $80 an hour in order to fill its own psychiatric vacancies.

While the health department saves a net $1.5 million on the clinic closings, it’s increasing spending on three additional deputy commissioners, outside contracts, and advertising and surveys by close to $1.7 million.

Cost savings due to clinic closures are illusory, MHM argues. Taxpayer costs will be shifted to ER visits, hospitalizations, police calls, jails and homeless shelters as clinics are unavailable.

Just 150 additional psychiatric hospitalizations in the next year (with an average cost of $13,000, there were nearly 40,000 such hospitalizations in Chicago in 2010) will eat up all savings from the closings.

The city is focusing on existing patients while studies indicate a large and growing population that isn’t getting treatment, particularly among low-income residents.

Closed door

“What’s remarkable is the extent to which people who are directly affected by this, and who have first-hand experience with these issues, have tried and tried to get the ear of officials who are making decisions about things they don’t know anything about,” said MHM organizer Matt Ginsberg-Jaeckle.

“They’ve consistently shut the door to discussion,” he said. “It’s clear they’re just washing their hands of it.”

Mental health advocates first sought to meet with Mayor Emanuel while he was still a candidate for office, and got no response, Ginsberg-Jaeckle said.

In August, Health Commissioner Bechara Choucair backed out of a mental health town hall meeting hours before it was scheduled to take place.

In October MHM delivered 4,000 letters to Emanuel warning of the risks of closing the clinics and asking for a meeting. Mayoral staff promised to get back to them but never did, Ginsberg-Jaeckle said.

In November, MHM members sat in at Emanuel’s office calling for a meeting, and got no response. In January they crashed Emanuel’s announcement that he was restoring library hours, and he said he’d talk with them, according to Ginsberg-Jaeckle. Nothing came of that, either.

Lights out

In the City Council, health committee chair George Cardenas has promised hearings but backtracked several times, reportedly under pressure from the mayor’s office.

Ald. Willie Cochrane (20th), whose ward includes the Woodawn Mental Health Center, which is scheduled to close, and the Englewood clinic, which will receive patients from Woodlawn and Auburn Gresham, has promised to introduce a resolution calling for hearings on the closings, activists say.

On Tuesday evening, protestors will march on the offices of Ald. Joe Moreno (1st), Latasha Thomas (17th) and Joe Moore (49th), demanding they support the resolution. Thomas was among several aldermen who refused to talk with constituents about the clinics on their ward nights, Carter said. (Cardenas turned out the lights in his office when 28 constituents showed up, she said.)

Meanwhile, planning for the scheduled closings is slipshod and inadequate, Carter said. Therapists who are being reassigned haven’t been told where they’re going, and so their clients don’t know what to do. “People are afraid and confused,” she said.

Closing dates have changed several times since January. “They don’t have a plan, and we’ve put a spotlight on them so they can’t just push it through without a plan,” said Ginsberg-Jaeckle.

Although transportation assistance has been promised, details have changed regularly, Carter said. Now the city is talking about a couple months’ worth of bus passes, she said.

“If people need transportation now, they’re still going to need it in three months,” she said. “They’re just pushing people out of the system.”


UPDATE: MHM ally Southside Together Organizing for Power issued a statement on the cancellation of the G8 summit:

“The cancellation of the G8 summit comes as this city sits at a crossroads. Will we be a global city based on strong neighborhoods, robust public services, human rights and active public participation or a global city based on catering to corporations and hiding the poverty left in their wake?

“A good first step towards choosing the former path and putting people before profit would be to use a chunk of the $60-plus million raised by the city to cover the costs of the G8 summits to stop the closure of the 6 mental health clinics and the privatization of all seven of its neighborhood health centers and use the rest towards creating jobs, saving and improving schools and taking care of the people and communities that make up this city.

“STOP calls on Mayor Emanuel to immediately halt the closure of the mental health clinics and privatization of its neighborhood health centers as a first step in showcasing to the world the Chicago that the people demand and deserve. “

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What’s next Sun, 01 Jan 2012 22:51:51 +0000 In honor of the Year of the Protestor (as proclaimed by Time Magazine), the Journal of Ordinary Thought has reposted three poems from its summer issue on Art as Activism.  I like “What’s Next” by Lester Hemingway  (I like them all, but as you’d expect from a Hemingway, this one is pithy):



you’re angry.  me too

attention! the fruit is rotting

let’s save what we can


One of the best overviews of Occupy Wall Street is “The New Populists” in this month’s American Prospect.  Participant-observer Christopher Ketcham illuminates the fascinating dynamics of the movement with a depth and detail missing from most accounts, from the earliest discussions, to the intricate network of solidarity built on hard work and endless discussion, to the “blitzkrieg” – and markedly violent – police eviction on November 15, followed by a massive protest.

He notes the parallel with the populist movement of the 1890s – even citing a populist song on “the ninety and nine” who live in hunger and cold “that the one may live in luxury” – and America’s history of occupiers: Rosa Parks, lunch counter sit-ins, Martin Luther King’s Resurrection City, sit-down strikes in Flint, Coxey’s Army and the Bonus Marchers.  “The idea of occupation has outlasted Zucotti Park,” he writes.

Homes, schools, clinics 

We’ve covered the local movement to “occupy foreclosures”  — its roots in Boston and Florida go back years, and its opportunities are expanding everyday.  Another arena for occupiers is the fight to defend public schools.

At a recent teach-in by CTU and community allies, several angry parents spoke about the need to “occupy our schools.”  The Nation reports on occupy tactics being deployed to oppose the encroachment of charter schools in New York City and New Jersey as well as CPS chief Jean-Claud Brizard’s previous domain of Rochester — and his new one of Chicago.

The fight over school policy presents all the issues of the Occupy movement – the post-hoc, pro-forma charade of public input by CPS , presided over by a rubber-stamp Board of Education, makes a mockery of democracy.  Politically connected groups like UNO and AUSL have the inside track.  The wealthy elite – Penny Pritzker and the “billionaire boys club” — has overwhelming influence, even as corporate interests undermine school funding by evading taxes and sucking up TIF subsidies.

(Here’s an insight:  citizens pay taxes that keep government running; corporations prefer to pay politicians directly so they can decide how it’s going to be run.)

The Mental Health Movement hasn’t backed off its demand to keep clinics open.  Joined by Occupy Rogers Park, they mike-checked Alderman Joe Moore last month (Rogers Park’s clinic is one of six slated for closing), and they confronted Health Commissioner Bechara Couchair in Bronzeville.  They’re not going to give up.

If there were anyone in the City Council with a backbone, they’d move to restore the paltry $3 million being saved by the closings.  They might take another look at the $15 million TIF subsidy CME has yet to claim, particularly in light of the massive state tax break they just grabbed.  The city’s share would cover a year of operation for those clinics.

Kelly on NATO

Then there’s the NATO/G8 summit in May.  Writing from Occupied Afghanistan, Chicagoan Kathy Kelly marks the human costs of NATO policies there – including six children recently killed in Kandahar when a NATO plane “mistook them for insurgents.”

One activist with Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers tells her, “International forces have made people feel less secure….People here are suffering because of destruction caused by outsiders.”

Meanwhile, she notes, NATO Secretary General Anders Rasmussen has opined that Chicago “shares values that underpin NATO.”

Kelly counters: “Activists on the ground, envisioning a different kind of Chicago, and bracing themselves for the crushing, militarized police response that in recent years has consistently met protesters at these events, can only hope that this is not the case.”

“I’m looking forward to people from Occupy Everywhere coming to Chicago,” she writes.

“Many friends in Chicago are getting ready to meet the concerted state apparatus, so determined to run smoothly in its blind mechanical course, with simple human power. It’s going to involve tremendous work, but this is what life means everywhere now.

“The City of Big Shoulders earned its name before the period of modern U.S. empire, the decades of artificial prosperity secured from above and fueled from abroad, which this upcoming summit will attempt to manage in its decline.

“I think that underneath the hype, underneath the intoxicating flow of wealth seized from abroad, the plastic, mechanized, isolated comforts of the boom, Chicago well understands the real meaning of strength and determination.

“We’ll need to remember a force more powerful than violence in the time that’s coming, a strength that doesn’t turn us against our neighbors and isn’t handed down by the powerful, a courage that I see in the faces of the youth here in Kabul, confidently advertising it as its own reward.”

Mental health groups oppose cuts, privatization Thu, 04 Aug 2011 19:14:55 +0000 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.