Mayor's office says clinics will stay open while talks continue

  • By Alex Parker
  • Staff Writer
  • April 09, 2009 @ 11:00 AM

As patients and advocates of four city-run mental health clinics slated to close await word on the centers' fate, the mayor's office says the centers will stay open as long as talks between city officials and advocates continue.

A meeting Tuesday night between city officials and a coalition of mental health advocates yielded no concrete answers, following Mayor Richard M. Daley's announcement Tuesday that plans to close the centers were "on hold."

That announcement came the same day new revelations about the city's difficulty in billing the state for mental health services came to light. Because of computer problems, the city failed to bill the state for services for six months in 2008, leading the state to pull more than $1 million in mental health funding. The ensuring funding crisis led to the plan to close clinics.

The four clinics scheduled to close are Woodlawn, Back-of-the-Yards, Greater Grand/Mid-South and Beverly-Morgan Park.

Jacqueline Heard, Daley's press secretary says talks between the mayor's office and advocates are ongoing, and "the four centers will remain open while those talks continue."

Other details are less clear.

Chicago Department of Public Health spokesman Tim Hadac says high-level talks are ongoing, and all options are on the table, "from the CDPH plan to move forward, to complete reversal, to any number of things in between, such as keeping the clinics open on a limited and/or temporary basis."

Ultimately, he says, the decision lies with the mayor.

Darryl Gumm, chairman of the Community Mental Health Board, says he spoke with Daley's chief of staff Paul Volpe last night, who said the city will try to keep the centers open, but it's unsure for how long.

"They asked for more time," Gumm says. "They're trying to come up with a plan to keep the centers open. He's (Volpe) asking for at least another day."

Chicago Department of Public Health staff gathered yesterday for a department-wide meeting, where one employee emailed the left-leaning news Web site Progress Illinois, saying, "[Health Commissioner Terry] Mason just now said he still has no actual instructions from City Hall to halt the closures, and that he is trying to clarify it with them.  The others below him say they take orders from the Commissioner."

Hadac could not confirm that Mason had yet to get a directive from the mayor.

Nor were Hadac or Illinois Department of Human Services spokesman Tom Green able to confirm that state money might be available for the centers.

The city continues to have trouble inputting bills to the state's system.

Human Services spokesman Green says the city has billed only $32,000 for fiscal year 2009, which began July 1.

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.