State says city only requested $4 million for mental clinics

Fearing the loss of mental health clinics, protesters delivered a sack of letters to City Hall yesterday. | Credit: Alex Parker
  • By Alex Parker
  • Staff Writer
  • August 28, 2009 @ 6:00 AM

The Chicago Department of Public Health is getting a fraction of the $7.2 million in state mental health funds awarded last year, a dip Commissioner Terry Mason blames on the state’s budget crisis. But the Department of Human Services says the city estimated it would need only $4.2 million for mental health services.

CDPH denies this.

DHS spokeswoman Marielle Sainvilus also confirmed that the $3 million drop in funding is related to lingering electronic billing problems, first exposed by the Daily News, which almost closed four of the 12 city mental health centers in April.

Mason said yesterday no plans exist to close any of the city’s mental health centers, but the drop in state money is causing officials to take a close look at city health services.

“There is no plan at this point to close or further consolidate clinics,” he said, adding that CDPH is involved in discussions on how to manage a significant loss of state mental health funds and a depleted city budget.

When asked if the reduced funding was related to the billing problems, Sainvilus said, “Yes. It is the billing.”

The state is providing just $4.2 million for mental health services, down from $7.2 million last year.

Funding is determined on how much mental health services were reimbursed the previous year. To date, Sainvilus says, the city has billed less than $400,000 of services. Mason said Monday the city is still ironing out computer-related billing issues.

Sainvilus also said DHS is working with CDPH to resolve the billing issues, and asked the city to estimate how much it needed to operate mental health services. Sainvilus says the city requested $4.2 million.

Health department spokesman Tim Hadac denied this in an email, saying, “If anyone is saying CDPH actually requested an FY 2010 allocation of $4.2 million, that is simply untrue.”

Last year, the state provided $7.2 million to the city’s 12 clinics. The year before, it gave $8.4 million.

For 2010, the city is contributing $8 million, which includes $2.5 million in stimulus funds that were allocated to keep the centers open in the spring, Mason said.

In 2009, records show the city contributed about $5 million to mental health services. The four centers that were scheduled to close – or consolidate, as Mason put it – accounted for about $3.4 million of the mental health budget. A fifth center, North River, which was spared, cost an additional $996,000.

The remaining eight centers account for roughly $7.1 million of the $12.7 million mental health budget.

Yesterday, Mason refused to give credence to reports that CPDH officials have discussed closing up to five mental health centers – something the mayor refused to address at a town hall meeting Tuesday night – referring back to comments he made last month when discussing the impact a “doomsday” state budget would mean for public health.

“Regarding mental health, I said that if the state cut our funding the way it appeared they would, ‘There will be 3,100 fewer visits to our mental health clinics – that is to say to those clinics that aren’t closed down,’” Mason said today.

After Mason spoke to reporters, about 40 protesters rallied in front of Mayor Richard M. Daley’s office, calling for the mayor to uphold his promise not to close four South Side mental health centers.

At City Hall, patients scared by the prospect their clinics might close chanted slogans and delivered a potato sack of signed petitions to Daley. They expressed their displeasure with the mayor.

When asked if she believed her clinic would remain open, Marti Luckett, a patient at the Beverly-Morgan Park clinic, which was spared in April, said, “I’ll believe it when I see it in writing.”

She worries about adjusting to a new therapist: “It takes years to build a relationship with a therapist.”

“I wouldn’t be here and that’s just a fact,” said Margaret Sullivan, who had her suicide planned out before getting treatment at the Beverly-Morgan Park clinic. “I just can’t endure the thought they’ll be closed. ... It scares me to death.”

“It’s a public safety issue for all the citizens of Chicago,” said community activist Bill Dock Walls, who worried what would happen if a mentally ill patient cannot get treatment.

Perhaps illustrating his point, just blocks away at the intersection of State and Randolph, Chicago police shot and killed a man who was menacing passersby with a knife.

There is no evidence yet that he was mentally ill. Police Commissioner Jody Weis said he may have been an aggressive panhandler.

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.