Community groups and health providers from the South and West sides urged the City Council on Monday to support a budget amendment that seeks $25 million for mental health services aimed at long-term trauma care.
Ald. Ricardo Muñoz (22nd) introduced the budget amendment Oct. 31 with support from Ald. Susan Sadlowski Garza (10th), Ald. Michael Scott Jr. (24th), and Ald. George Cardenas (12th), chairman of the Committee on Health and Environmental Protection. Groups that support the measure include the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, Southside Together Organizing for Power and the Pilsen Alliance.
The amendment is set for discussion by the council’s budget committee Nov. 13. It would include funding to reopen six city-run mental health clinics shuttered in 2012 and expand services already provided by nonprofits, hospitals and clinics across the city.
“When we cut funding, we cut the heart out of our communities,” Cardenas said. “This is a way to restore that funding, to restore hope,” he said. “The facilities that do exist are understaffed and lack clinicians and case workers with trauma training.”
Cardenas cited a study published in May by the Collaborative for Community Wellness — a coalition of community groups stewarded by Dr. Arturo Carrillo, the mental health program manager at St. Anthony Hospital — that found only 63 clinicians served the entire Southwest Side of the city, a ratio of .17 clinicians per 1,000 residents.
Meanwhile, the Gold Coast neighborhood had 381 clinicians, or 4.45 per 1,000 residents.
Dr. Julie Morita, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, said she’d welcome more funds to address the mental health needs of the city but would not want to use the money to reopen city-run clinics.
“We have over 250 sites in Chicago that provide behavioral mental health services, and many of them have open spots available,” Morita said, adding that dozens of sites are federally funded and operate on a “sliding scale” of fees to make it affordable for people who are uninsured or underinsured.
Instead, Morita would like to see the funds go toward expanding the existing network of providers.
“I would use it to strengthen existing behavioral mental health care providers,” not “open more [Chicago Department of Public Health] mental health clinics.”
Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s final city budget earmarks $1.4 million for a “Chicago Helpline” operated by the National Alliance for Mental Illness to include nights and weekends and make a direct connection to the city’s 311 non-emergency center.
The Health Department will also start offering “walk-in psychiatric services” and other “walk-in crisis therapy” to as many as 2,100 patients in need each year.