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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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Sheriff Dart to speak on impact of clinic closings

Sheriff Tom Dart’s warning last year that closing the city’s mental health clinics would add to the burden of the Cook County Jail is coming true, according to the Mental Health Movement.

Joined by mental health professionals and consumers, Dart will discuss the impact of the clinic closings on the jail — including people who could avoid incarceration if they had access to mental health services — at a forum on Wednesday, September 5, at 6:30 p.m. at Episcopal Church Nuestra Senora, 2610 N. Francisco.

Dart will be joined by Crystal Colon of Iraq Veterans Against the War and psychologist Rebecca Paz-Ford of Lurie Children’s Hospital and Northwestern University.  According to MHM, psychiatric hospitalizations doubled in April, after half of the city’s clinics were closed.

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From 1968, a long view on movement building

After demonstrators were arrested and roughed up in an unsuccessful attempt to march to McCormick Place on Sunday, I thought it would be interesting to check in with Mel Rothenberg.  He has the distinction of leading the only demonstration that succeeded in marching to the International Ampitheatre, where the Democratic National Convention was being held, in 1968.

Now a retired professor, Rothenberg has been politically active through the intervening decades, most recently with Chicago Jobs With Justice and the Chicago Political Economy Group.  This gives him a long view on movement building and social change. (He and I worked together on the Chicago bureau of the Guardian, the independent radical newsweekly published in New York, in the 1980s.)

Chicago 1968 “was very different,” he says.  “It was a shock.  Everybody, the demonstrators and cops, were uncertain about what would happen.” At last weekend’s NATO protest, “both the authorities and the demonstration organizers had much more control of the street action, and the media had already orchestrated its coverage ahead of time.”

Big differences

“In 1968 the mayor was completely unprepared and the city was completely on edge,” he says.  In contrast to media pre-coverage this time – featuring scary headlines which almost surely depressed turnout – in 1968 “the media was trying to keep things calm, pretending nothing was going to happen.”

Also different was the police department: “In ’68 there was a lot of overt racism in the department — the Klan was operating openly; there were conflicts within the police department.” There had been major riots in Watts, Detroit, Newark. “The authorities were in a panic.  There were National Guard and state police, and it looked like for a while that the city would be put under martial law.”

Rothenberg helped organizet the Bourbaki Brigade, a contingent of mathematicians, who marched about 100-strong through Bridgeport to the Ampitheatre at 42nd and Halsted.  “It was very tense,” he recalls.  “There were neighborhood thugs threatening us, and the police in between, both protecting us and threatening us.”

The police “were making decisions on the spur of the moment – they didn’t know what was happening either – and they decided to let us through; we were a small group and not very threatening, mathematicians, college professors.”

The next day was supposed to be the big march to the convention site.  “It was supposed to be peaceful.  We brought our kids.”  A huge crowd gathered in the park across from the Conrad Hilton, and someone (later revealed to be a police infiltrator) climbed the flagpole and took down the American flag.  “That was the signal, they attacked us, there was tear gas, there was chaos.”

A big flop

This year, he says, “I don’t think Obama or NATO came out very well.  All the attention was on the demonstrators. The summit was a big flop.”

“There was no popular support in Chicago for NATO, no outpouring of sentiment to support NATO.” And “no one except city officials and p.r. people thought it was going to help the city.  It was a bust from the point of view of helping the local economy or getting favorable international attention to Chicago.”

“About the only thing they accomplished was to avoid a disaster,” Rothenberg said.

As for the protests, they turned out thousands of people – certainly far more than the 2,000 reported by the police – and wove together a range of social concerns with the issues of war and militarization.

But Rothenberg says there needs to be more attention to building a sustainable movement that goes beyond occasional demonstrations to actually challenging and changing policies.

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Not NATO’s kind of town

Mayor Emanuel is congratulating himself for a successful NATO summit – successful mainly because no disasters occurred, though the only real threats seem to have been those manufactured by police.

No doubt the black bloc is also congratulating itself that day-after front pages carried pictures of scuffles with police, rather than veterans returning their medals with members of Afghans For Peace looking on, certainly the most moving and meaningful drama of the weekend.

What would a real accounting of the summit’s costs and benefits look like?

“Obama projects desired image,” the Sun-Times titles one story, but the summit itself had some signal failures.  Two major goals – getting commitments from member states to fund the next phase of the war in Afghanistan, and reopening supply routes through Pakistan – did not pan out.

The protests cast a long shadow over Obama’s attempt to play the summit as a withdrawal from Afghanistan for the domestic audience (while lining up support from other countries for continuing operations).

Unfortunately for Emanuel’s legacy, the “Chicago Accord” that he was boasting last week would be signed at the summit – an agreement on how to proceed on Afghanistan – wasn’t to be, Rick Rozoff of Stop NATO points out.

Even the summit’s biggest actual accomplishment – the announcement that NATO’s missile defense system is going online – comes with no noticeable benefit and at great cost: major tensions with Russia, whose cooperation is needed for the alternative supply route to Afghanistan, Rozoff says.

He points out that the announcement included new plans for satellite technology, which he calls a fulfillment of Ronald Reagan’s Star Wars dreams, and a dangerous and costly step toward the militarization of space.

Largest anti-NATO protest ever

Meanwhile, NATO was subject to a great deal of negative attention – and Chicago hosted the largest anti-NATO demonstration in the entire history of the alliance, Rozoff said.

(Four city blocks – a half mile – of marchers filling four lanes of State Street probably amounts to two or three times the police/media estimate of 3,000 protestors.)

And there’s renewed attention to the obscene amounts the U.S. and NATO nations spend on armaments.  This at a time when suffering from a lingering economic crisis continues to grow, when cities and states are mired in crisis and slashing public services – and while Obama’s defense secretary is opposing relatively minor spending cuts agreed to in last year’s budget deal.

The media tends to see the protestors as bearing a confusing mish-mash of causes.  But listen to them and you see that they are all connected on a fundamental level. At the Grant Park rally on Sunday, speaker after speaker tied issue after issue to the question of war and militarization.

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Mental health closures causing hospitalizations

With four more mental health centers slated for closing Monday, clinic users and supporters will seek a “pardon” from President Obama tomorrow – and highlight psychiatric hospitalizations that have resulted from the closure of two clinics earlier this month.

The Mental Health Movement will march on Obama’s campaign headquarters, 130 E. Randolph, at 11 a.m., Monday, April 30, to ask for “presidential pardon” for the condemned clinics – and for the clinic users they say will die as a result of the closures.

At 5:15 p.m. on Monday, therapists from the city clinics joined by health advocate Quentin Young will hold a press conference outside the mayor’s office in City Hall to discuss the impact of the closures.

One immediate outcome has been a surge of psychiatric hospitalizations for clients of two clinics closed earlier this month.  MHM knows of 18 such hospitalizations, said organizer Matt Ginsburg-Jaeckle.

One client – who was hospitalized after attempting suicide when she lost her long-time therapist – has been released and is telling her story for a video that MHM will be releasing, Ginsburg-Jaeckle said.

The cost of such hospitalizations (averaging $13,000 each) will eat up any taxpayers savings from clinic closings, according to an MHM report issued earlier this year.

Other issues highlighted in the report include the firing of all bilingual therapists at a time when immigrant communities increasingly need mental health services; the closure of four clinics in South Side communities that have a critical shortage of mental health services; and the diminished capacity of nonprofit providers that are supposed to take up the slack.

MHM members and supporters have been occupying the lot across from the Woodlawn Mental Health Center, 63rd and Woodlawn, since 23 were arrested at a sit-in at the clinic on April 12.  The Woodlawn center is slated for closure Monday.

Latinos to testify on mental health cuts

Patients and staff from city mental health centers that are being closed next month by Mayor Emanuel will testify on the impact of the closures on the Latino community, Wednesday, March 21 at 7 p.m. at Resurrection Church, 3043 N. Francisco.

Although large swathes of the immigrant population will remain uninsured under federal health reform, the two centers serving the largest number of Latino clients – Back of the Yards, 4313 S. Ashland, and the Northwest center, 2354 N. Milwaukee – are among six centers slated for closing, with much of the bilingual staff to be laid off.

Former City Clerk Miguel del Valle will open the forum, and elected officials are invited to respond to comments.

Pressure is mounting on Ald. George Cardenas (12th ward), chair of the health committee, who has repeatedly promised hearings on the closings.  A resolution calling for hearings was introduced in the City Council last week and referred to the health committee.

MHM: Tax yachts to save clinics

The Mental Health Movement will launch a campaign to pass a “yacht tax” to provide funding for six mental health clinics slated to close next month.  They’re holding a press conference on the second floor of City Hall at 9:30 a.m., Wednesday, March 14.

Ald. Willie B. Cochran (20th) will introduce a resolution at Wednesday’s council meeting calling for emergency hearings on the clinic closings.  The first two clinics are scheduled to close on April 9.  More on the issue here.

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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