On a day of twists and turns on the fate of four city-run mental health clinics, the mayor's office announced that the centers will stay open with the help of federal economic stimulus dollars.
The announcement late this afternoon capped a frenzied day in which mental health center employees thought their centers were closing and mental health advocates were fielding calls from concerned patients.
This morning, movers were taking computers and office furniture from the four South Side mental health clinics and staff members said the centers were closing.
But at a press conference across town in Lakeview, Daley discussed negotiations with mental health advocates trying to save the centers.
“We’re still working with those people. We're working with them, yes we are, trying to make sure we keep them (the clinics) open," Daley told reporters.
Several hours later, Daley spokesperson Jodi Kawada said the city will use economic stimulus funds to stave off closing the centers, which serve about 2,000 people. The money will come from a block of grant money for community services, and could take up to two weeks to be delivered.
“After several meetings with mental health advocates, the city decided to use economic stimulus funds to delay closing the four mental health clinics that were scheduled for consolidation,” said Kawada in an emailed statement. “This is an interim solution as we work to determine a way to keep these centers open for the long term.”
The drama this week ensued following a Daily News report that detailed the Chicago Department of Public Health’s difficulty in providing the state with mental health service billing information. The lack of data caused the state to pull more than $1 million in funding from the city, leading to the decision to close four centers. Previously, city officials blamed the funding crisis related to the mental health centers on the state's budget problems.
The City Hall annoucnement late Thursday was welcome news for advocates, who have battled to keep the centers open. On Monday, they staged a protest and sit-in at Daley’s office and were granted a meeting with Paul Volpe, the mayor’s chief of staff.
A subsequent meeting on Tuesday with Volpe and Terry Mason, the health department’s commissioner, ended with no concrete answers, but a promise to keep working on a plan to save the centers. At the meeting, a coalition of mental health advocates presented a five-point plan to keep the centers open.
But today it appeared the centers were closing.
A woman who answered the phone at the Beverly-Morgan Park clinic this afternoon said there was confusion about the fate of that clinic.
“We really don’t know. We heard through the media that we were supposed to be staying open. But they came today and they took our computers. If you take our computers, what do we have to service our clients?”
Darryl Gumm, chairman of the Community Mental Health Board, spoke with Volpe at least twice on Thursday.
“I have his word that they are not going to remain closed,” Gumm says. Following the whirlwind turn of events, Gumm’s excitement was tempered.
And Nadonna Carter, a patient at the Greater Grand/Mid-South clinic, says she is frustrated with the events that caused a seesaw of emotions.
“Well, I’ll believe it when it’s done. I am so frustrated,” she says. “I had a call this morning from one of the employees at Greater Grand, around 10 a.m., and they told me that the movers were there and they were moving out. And they didn’t understand.”
But Bedonna Rheingold, a board member at the Woodlawn clinic, was ecstatic.
“Hallelujah, hallelujah,” she said. “I’m just thrilled. We’ve been sort of turning somersaults.”
Details about how much stimulus money will come to the centers are fuzzy, nor is it clear why equipment was being removed from the centers.
Illinois Department of Human Services spokesman Tom Green says the city has submitted only $32,000 of billing for fiscal year 2009, which began July 1. It is eligible for more than $7.1 million if it bills for 100 percent of services.
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.