Updated at 11 a.m. 4/28/2015
One of the largest providers of mental health services in Chicago will close its doors at the end of May. Community Counseling Centers of Chicago, known as C4, served over 10,000 people each year.
The closing happens as Chicago’s mental health infrastructure is already in crisis. Last week WBEZ reported skyrocketing emergency room visits. From 2009 to 2013, ER discharges for psychiatric care increased by 37 percent.
The organization’s president, Eileen Durkin, blamed the closing on the botched implementation of a new billing system at the organization. “We made some of our own internal errors. The system was very sophisticated. And we had a hard time as an organization mastering all of the nuances of the system,” said Durkin.
Multiple staff say the organization has been mismanaged under Durkin. The staff point to poor communication and financial choices.
But one thing that everyone seems to be in agreement on, is the potentially devastating impact the closure will have on Chicago.
“It’s going to lead to more substance abuse, more conflict and violence in families, definitely more people going to the emergency rooms that are already overloaded and unfortunately more people being arrested and incarcerated,” said C4 counselor Max Beshers.
Damian Phillips said he has been getting treatment at C4 for six years. “They make sure I get my meds. They tell me the the right thing to do when I am seeing things.”
Staff say there are many people like Phillips, who rely on C4 for essential medication.
“If they get a sudden disconnection of those medications the average person will have a break down and that can go very badly,” said Dan Bader, a psychotherapist at one of Chicago’s city clinics.
Bader says the city should fill any gaps that are left by the closing, especially ensuring that people have access to their prescriptions.
Both the City of Chicago and State of Illinois say they are working closely with C4 on a transition plan.
But mental health advocate and University of Chicago Professor Mark Heyrman said that after years of cuts, the governments don’t have the kind of resources they used to have. “We do not have the staff employed by the city, by the county, by the state to make sure those people get safely to another good provider,” said Heyrman.
In 2012 the City of Chicago closed half its mental health clinics, and the current proposed state budget cuts $82 million from mental health.
Even in cases where services are available, transitioning clients to new services will present challenges, Mental health services often rely on relationships built over time. Rebecca Lorentzen works with youth at C4. “We may be one of the only stable, consistent adults in their lives, and now for reasons out of our control we are saying we have to end that,” she said.
WBEZ will update this story as more information becomes available.
Shannon Heffernan is a reporter for WBEZ. Follow her @shannon_h