CHICAGO (CBS) — A top Emanuel aide insisted Tuesday the administration has done a better job caring for the mentally ill over the past couple years, despite closing half the city’s clinics; but some advocates told aldermen that’s simply not the case.
WBBM Newsradio Political Editor Craig Dellimore reports Public Health Commissioner Dr. Bechara Choucair told the City Council Health Committee, while the city closed six of its 12 mental health clinics two years ago, it increased the amount of available services by working with private agencies.
Choucair also said patients were not turned away after clinics were closed.
“Eighty-five percent of our clients – or 2,369 of them, as I mentioned – remained within one of our city clinics, while just 15 percent – or 429 – chose to transfer to a private, not-for-profit provider,” he said.
Mental health advocate N’Dana Carter said Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s 2012 plan to consolidate the city’s mental health clinics was not well-thought-out.
“When Dr. Choucair was able to get up and make the statement that he did consult with the community, he never consulted with the people that were affected,” she said.
Carter said some patients have fallen through the cracks, forced to travel farther to get treatment, separated from familiar doctors or therapists, and been left unable to get the help they need.
Many patients have been arrested, and ended up in Cook County Jail, which Sheriff Tom Dart has said is now the “largest mental health hospital” in the nation.
The sheriff has called on lawmakers to provide more funding for care for the mentally ill.
“They’re outrageously cheap when you compare to how much it costs us here, so this isn’t like a break-the-bank type of thing. It’s just a question of them doing their jobs,” Dart, a former state lawmaker himself, said in May.
Dart said society needs to spend more money to treat the mentally ill, instead of housing them in jails. He said it costs three times as much to house and offer support to a mentally ill detainee than inmates who are not.
“It’s, fiscally, outrageously stupid. It’s inhumane. It’s not a way a thoughtful society would deal with people with mental illness,” Dart said.
“The unfortunate undeniable conclusion is that, because of the dramatic and sustained cuts in mental health funding, we have criminalized mental illness in this country; and county jails and state prison facilities are where the majority of the mental health care and treatment is administered,” Dart said.
He said those people should be getting medical and psychological help, not simply incarcerated awaiting trial.
At Tuesday’s Health Committee hearing, Carter urged Chicago residents to call their alderman and the mayor to demand the city reopen the six shuttered clinics and increase funding for mental health services in next year’s city budget.