In a confusing turn of events, four city-run mental health centers appeared to be closing today, despite a reprieve by the mayor Tuesday designed to keep them open.
As late as 10:30 a.m. today, Mayor Richard M. Daley was discussing the negotiations with mental health advocates about the fate of 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 said to reporters.
But across town, computers and office furniture were being removed from at least two mental health centers, and a woman who answered the phone at the Back-of-the Yards clinic said it was closed for good.
A woman who answered the phone at the Beverly-Morgan Park clinic said there was confusion about the fate of that clinic.
“We really don’t know. We heard during 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?”
A man who answered the phone at the Woodlawn clinic referred the call to the Chicago Department of Public Health.
At the Greater Grand/Mid-South clinic, office furniture was being removed and taken to an alley. Computer monitors were sitting on waiting room chairs.
Staff at that center declined to answer questions about a possible closure, but Deborah Taylor, a volunteer with SouthSide Together Organizing for Power, said movers at the clinic told her the computers were being taken away for recycling.
She said a staff member at the center told her the computers were being taken to the Chicago Department of Public Health’s downtown office.
Taylor says a staff member told her plans to pack equipment were ongoing.
“They are not actually closing, but they have not heard from (health department chief Terry) Mason’s office,” she says she was told. “Until they hear from him, they’ll keep packing.”
Requests for comment from the health department and mayor’s office have yet to be returned.
The turn of events left mental health advocates shaken and confused.
Darryl Gumm, chairman of the Community Mental Health Board, which garnered a meeting with Daley’s chief of staff Paul Volpe and Terry Mason, head of the health department, says Volpe told him the centers were supposed to stay open. The mayor’s office yesterday said they would stay open as long as talks between city officials and advocates continued.
Gumm says patients have been calling him all day.
“They’ve been freaking out. We thought we had a reprieve,” he says. “This is not good for our patients. If we can’t believe the mayor, if we can’t believe his chief of staff who can we believe. How can they play with people’s lives like this?”
The centers were due to close Tuesday, after a months-long battle by advocates to keep them open. Daley said Tuesday morning that the closures were put on hold, following new details in the Daily News about the city’s problems billing the state for service. The billing issues led the state to pull more than $1 million in funding, and the decision by Mason to close the centers.
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.