Lightfoot to spend $9.3 million to increase access to mental health services

The Framework for Mental Health Equity “will extend service to tens of thousands of additional patients,” Public Health official says

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Mayor Lori Lightfoot announces an expansion in the city’s efforts to provide mental health services to people across Chicago on Oct. 24, 2019.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot announces an expansion in the city’s efforts to provide mental health services to people across Chicago on Oct. 24, 2019.

Manny Ramos/Sun-Times

The city of Chicago will invest $9.3 million in a new mental health initiative that officials say will begin filling the gaps in services citywide.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot unveiled the Framework for Mental Health Equity, a new comprehensive plan that increases access to mental care through a four-step targeted approach. The program remains equitable by prioritizing communities most in need, she said.

“That’s what makes our plan different,” said Lightfoot. “Before our system was just a patchwork. Now we are thinking about our system as a whole by bringing people together to figure out how we can deliver services to the people most in need.”

Allison Arwady, acting commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, said her agency will be engaging directly with communities instead of waiting for people to come to it.

Arwady said people tend to not seek mental health service for four main reasons: they don’t know where to go; whether their insurance will cover the service; if they can afford it; and stigmas associated with mental health services.

“The problems all point to our lack of a coordinated system,” Arwady said. “They are made worst by the fact many Chicago neighborhoods suffer from a legacy of institutional racism and disinvestment.

“Systemic problems require systemic solutions.”

The Framework for Mental Health Equity will address those in need of services through its four steps.

• Investing in a network of 20 outpatient clinics, including the five city-operated mental health clinics, to provide “trauma-informed services to more people.” The city will invest in publicly funded clinics and nonprofit organizations that are already providing mental health services.

“These clinics will all provide care regardless of patients insurance status, immigration status or ability to pay,” Arwady said. “Investing in this network will extend service to tens of thousands of additional patients in the neighborhoods in greatest needs.”

• Focus on mental health needs of victims of violence through community outreach.

• Fund mental health crisis programs. “We will fund outreach and stabilization to these residents focusing on neighborhoods with high rates of hospitalizations for mental health crisis,” Arwady said.

• Help residents find services near them via a hotline.

Manny Ramos is a corps member of Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of Chicago’s South Side and West Side.

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