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Patients ‘disappeared’ in mental health closings

Last year’s closing of six of the city’s twelve mental health clinics – for a reported savings of just $3 million – was “characterized by poor planning, mismanagement, inaccurate information, and profound insensitivity to clients,” according to a new report from the Mental Health Movement and AFSCME Council 31.

That meant a rocky transition for many clients, while the Chicago Department of Public Health seems to have lost track of as many as two thousand clients whose transition it had pledged to monitor.

According to the report, “Abandoning the Most Vulnerable,” the city listed 5,337 clients in October 2011 when the clinic closings were announced, but its report on the transition this July gave the total as 2,798.

Asked about this, the city told researchers that a March review found only 3,282 “active” cases.  The difference includes clients who weren’t currently seeing a therapist but expected to be able to if necessary – and in any case, between March and July, nearly 500 clients “disappeared” entirely, according to the report.

One problem was that therapists who were being transferred from closing clinics weren’t informed of their new assignments until the very last minute, making it impossible to keep their clients in the loop, said Jo Patton of AFSCME.

The failure to monitor all the city’s clients “represents a signficant lapse at the top echelons” of CDPH, while “the attempt to cover up that failure by simply revising the total number of clients raises serious ethical concerns,” the report charges.

No comprehensive effort

“There was not a comprehensive effort to reach each client and provide them with the information they needed to continue to receive services,” according to the report.

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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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