In a familiar move, the Chicago Department of Public Health is poised to shutter at least four city-run mental health centers within 45 days, as the city grapples with an unclear budget picture.
CDPH spokesman Tim Hadac confirmed that department commissioner Dr. Terry Mason met with the city’s Board of Health yesterday to outline plans to close the centers, which could become victims of the state’s budget crisis.
Earlier this month, Mason said Gov. Pat Quinn’s “doomsday” budget could prompt the city to cut mental health services, as well as many other services.
Lawmakers in Springfield are stilling hashing out a budget, which does not appear to include provisions for the income tax hike Quinn desires. The state faces a $9.2 billion deficit, and Quinn has said funding for local agencies like CDPH would have to be cut in the absence of a tax hike.
The four South Side centers nearly closed their doors in April after city officials said cuts in state money would make it impossible to keep them open.
A Daily News report subsequently revealed the city had, against state advice, installed a billing system that didn't work. The city was unable to bill the state for mental health services for several months, which created a budget shortfall and led to the plan to close the clinics.
In the wake of the article, Mayor Richard M. Daley said the centers would stay open with help from federal stimulus dollars.
The centers up for closure are: Englewood, Woodlawn, Beverly/Morgan Park and Back-of-the-Yards. One North Side clinic, North River, may also close. It is unclear if staff layoffs would result from the closures, though Mason has said publicly that the department could lay off as many as 80 workers.
Hadac says Mason discussed the health department’s options, should the doomsday budget be adopted, “talking about hypothetical CDPH actions in response to possible state funding cutbacks.”
“Consolidating clinics is one hypothetical action, if the state cuts us by up to 50 percent,” Hadac says. “To paraphrase Dr. Mason, we can’t make bricks if we don’t have straw."
The Mayor’s office could not confirm that Daley has signed off on the action, though Daryl Gumm, chairman of the Community Mental Health Board of Greater Chicago, says the office of Daley’s chief of staff, Paul Volpe, called him to confirm the closures.
Gumm says Volpe’s office told him that $2.5 million in federal stimulus dollars earmarked for the clinics will be used to keep the rest of the city’s 12 clinics running.
“With the state cutting over $2.5 million out of the state budget, that puts the money back where they started, so they can’t keep them open,” Gumm says.
He says City Hall has pledged to institute a mental health task force, one of the advocates’ demands in April. It will allow community groups and the mental health workers’ union, AFSCME, to have input into how the clinics are run.
More than 2,000 patients would have to find services elsewhere if the clinics close. Mental health advocates are frustrated with the city’s flip-flop, and met last night in Woodlawn to discuss their next steps, which include a proposal to the city regarding matching funds. They oppose any talk of privatizing the clinics.
While the city is now billing the state regularly for mental health services, DHS spokesman Tom Green says it is still not billing for 100 percent of services provided.
Daily News Staff Writer Alex Parker covers public health. He can be reached at 773.362.5002, ext. 17, or alex [at] chitowndailynews [dot] org.