HOW MUCH IS A HUMAN LIFE WORTH?” CHICAGO’S MENTAL HEALTH MOVEMENT FACES ITS MOMENT OF TRUTH

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WRTE Productions: First Voice

Martin Macias, Jr.

The Department of Public Health is scheduled to close six of twelve remaining mental health clinics which serve over 5,000 residents and employ 155 workers, who are 85% Black and Latino. Close to 3,000 of those are uninsured, and another 2,000 carry Medicaid or private insurance. Health Commissioner Dr. Bechara Choucair claims the main objective is to improve mental health infrastructure city-wide. Members of the Mental Health Movement in Chicago say closing the clinics will have a devastating impact on the people that rely on them, such as forcing people to travel farther from their homes for services and being turned away for not being able to pay. The six clinics that remain open will be privatized which the coalition says will hurt the quality of treatment and jeopardize relationships that patients have established with clinics.

Residents of Logan Square, along with members of the Mental Health Movement gathered at Resurrection Church on Wednesday for a public forum highlighting the disparities in services to the Latino and Black communities. Latinos, the fastest growing minority population in the city, face barriers to services which explain why only 36% of Latinos combating depression received care in 2010 compared to 60% of Caucasians. The coalition is demanding the city’s mental health clinics be kept open, fully funded and services improved.

Former City Clerk and State Rep. Miguel Del Valle was present and asked how Mayor Emanuel could justify cutting funds for schools, libraries and now clinics. Del Valle shared the stage with residents who shared testimony of their struggles with mental health and how the clinics have helped them. Mayor Emanuel, Ald. Cardenas, Ald. Reboyras, State Senator Munoz and Ald. Moreno were all invited and didn’t attend.

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Resident Debra Delgado shared her story: “My two boys were shot and killed two years ago. They had their youth cut short. I was in distress and I think I would be with them in heaven right now if it weren’t for the staff at Northwest Clinic.” Delgado relies on the services offered by Northwest Clinic in Logan Square which is scheduled to close on April 9th along with a clinic in Rogers Park. Four south-side clinics, one each in Beverly/Morgan Park, Back of the Yards, Woodlawn and Auburn Gresham are set to close April 30th, 2012.

Mayor Emanuel and the City Council don’t seem to have the interests of the city’s poor, unemployed and marginalized taxpayers at heart. Corporations and charter schools are routinely given TIF subsidies and tax breaks while basic public services such as our libraries, parks and mental health clinics are being cut. Gov. Quinn announced a $100 million tax break for three of Illinois’ richest corporations and soon after Mayor Emanuel was given authority to award no-bid contracts in relation to the upcoming NATO summit, on top of a proposed $65 million on security. Is the 99% in Chicago being ignored?

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The Mental Health Movement has been organizing on this issue for more than three years. They’ve kept the pressure on Mayor Emanuel since his first day in office, delivering petitions, holding public forums and staging actions such as the sit-in last November in City Hall. The coalition is even proposing its own recommendations for raising the money needed to keep the clinics open such asa “yacht” tax which is estimated to generate up to $1.3 million in revenue.

Representatives from the Illinois Nurses Association also shared testimony at the forum. “These are not just places where people who suffer from mental illness can get counseling and treatment” said Maribel Quinones a nurse and advocate. “These are spaces where patients have a community that supports them. How can we talk about addressing violence and creating safe communities without investing in providing access to mental health services?”

“We have are the safety net for people and provide services others can’t or won’t offer to this community. We have a policy of never turning anyone away because they can’t pay. How can we make people decide between paying for therapy or groceries.” said Rose Torres, MA. “The closure of even this one clinic would represent a significant loss for the community.”

It’s estimated that closing six of the twelve mental health clinics will save $2.3 million in the city’s 2012 budget, or about $1.30/yr for each resident. The current $6.3 billion budget passed unanimously without a single dissenting vote and no public hearing on the cuts to clinics was held. Speakers at the forum made it clear that Alderman Cardenas (12th), who chairs the Committee on Health and Environmental Protection, has gone back on his promise to hold a hearing numerous times even though he has the authority and responsibility to hold a forum and give advocates a chance to make their voices heard. But they claim Ald. Cardenas has gone back on his word numerous times in order to please Mayor Emanuel. “I’ve been told by staffers in his office that it was a call from the Mayor that led to the cancellation of those hearings” said Matt Ginsberg-Jaeckle.

As people left the auditorium they passed a sign that read: “How much is a human life worth?”

What is a human life worth to our city? How much of your tax dollars should go towards securing health, food and an education for everyone in Chicago? Do we have a responsibility to take care of each other, especially the sick? These are questions that every Chicagoan must grapple with.  What will it take for all of us to care and get involved? Are we going to sit back quietly while Mayor Emanuel does this to our neighbors?

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As people left the auditorium they passed a sign that read: “How much is a human life worth?”

What is a human life worth to our city? How much of your tax dollars should go towards securing health, food and an education for everyone in Chicago? Do we have a responsibility to take care of each other, especially the sick? These are questions that every Chicagoan must grapple with.  What will it take for all of us to care and get involved? Are we going to sit back quietly while Mayor Emanuel does this to our neighbors?