In what could be an attempt to reverse the 2012 closures of city-run mental health clinics, a Chicago City Council committee passed a resolution Wednesday to create a Public Mental Health Clinic Service Expansion Task Force. The task force would oversee a study on which areas of the city need to have mental health clinics re-opened. The proposal cites WBEZ reporting that found some of the police districts with the most calls to 911 for mental health help are also the districts with the fewest mental health services.
“What we are arguing for is there needs to be a transparent, data-informed process to collect information about where the needs are and how the needs can best be served,” said Meg Lewis, with the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees Council (AFSCME) Council 31, which represents therapists at the city clinics.
Mental health advocates with groups, like Southside Together Organizing for Power (STOP), have been pushing for the reopening of public city clinics. Diane Adams, a STOP board member & Mental Health Movement member, said she is proof that city clinics work. She said she once attempted suicide. “I sought treatment. I found a therapist who helped me learn about my medicine and set goals for myself,” said Adams.
Adams insisted that the clinics need to be public. “Privatization doesn’t work because the wait is too long and the services get cut,” said Adams.
But other mental health advocates have suggested that city-run clinics may not be the most efficient or effective way to serve the need — suggesting alternatives like supporting private nonprofits that have expertise in delivering mental health services or collaborations with county and state government.
Alexa James is the executive director of NAMI Chicago – the National Alliance on Mental Illness. She said that she knew the closures were devastating for clients and staff.
“But I also know that if we continue to focus on the city reopening clinics, it’s thinking too small and is another example of asking a system to do something it isn't built to do,” James said. “The city has a huge role to play in prioritizing mental health for all people who live and work here. But they are not a provider.”
James said she does not think that means the city should be off the hook for ensuring there is a strong mental health system, but the city’s role should be as a coordinator and a funder.
“To start, the city needs to continue to identify gaps in the behavioral health system, fund and partner with providers to expand capacity, coordinate and demonstrate leadership that makes this a priority in all areas of the city,” James said.
If the proposal passes the full city council, the taskforce will include aldermen and representatives from the Chicago Department of Public Health, Chicago’s Community Mental Health Board, and AFSCME.