Protesters crash Chicago’s 175th birthday party

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Rahm Emanuel shakes hands on kids at the Chicago History Museum for the public celebrating the 175th Birthday of the City of Chicago. photo supplied by NBC Chicago. Chicago Sun-Times

Protesters interrupted a celebration of Chicago’s 175th birthday Sunday at which Mayor Rahm Emanuel spoke by blasting his budget plan to close six mental health clinics, contending the plan will make it harder for people to get help and cost lives.

“History will judge,” the small group shouted as Emanuel stood by a birthday cake with children and others gathered at the end of the Chicago History Museum celebration program Sunday.

The museum hosted a day-long program on the city’s founding, a children’s choir, a panel discussion on the city’s identity and with actors dressed as historical figures, including founder Jean Baptiste Pointe DuSable.

Emanuel spoke on the city’s history and future. “We have come to forks in the road . . . and yet we have never shrunk from our challenges,” Emanuel said. “And this is a story of the city and it’s a story still being written.”

The mayor quickly left the room without responding to the small group of protesters.

“They say there’s no money,” said protester Helen Morley, who says she gets treatment at the Beverly Morgan Park Mental Health Center. “They’ve got to make some way to get the money to keep the clinics open. People are dying and they ain’t going to have nowhere to go.”

The plan, which is being implemented, calls for consolidating 12 city mental health clinics into six and having seven primary care health clinics partner with federally qualified health centers by mid-year.

A statement from the Mayor’s office released Sunday following the brief protest said: “The reforms allow the city to deliver better services at a lower cost while maintaining a high level of care for uninsured patents and those most in need within their own neighborhoods and communities. The city will continue to serve 80 percent of current clients while expanding relationships with community mental health providers to ensure a smooth transition and expanded services for those in need.”

The Mayor’s office added the administration is increasing funding for psychiatric services by $500,000 as requested by mental health providers.

The protesters, part of the community group Southside Together Organizing for Power, have sent letters to Emanuel contending the consolidation plan will destroy long-standing relationships individuals have with their health care providers and force residents to travel outside of their communities to get care. They note the centers serve 5,300 city residents.

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