Lightfoot defends overhaul of Chicago mental health system despite refusal to reopen closed clinics | Chicago News

Mayor Lori Lightfoot Lightfoot discusses mental health care during an event at Access Community Health Network in Back of the Yards. (Chicago Mayor’s Office)

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Monday that her strategy to address “significant gaps” in Chicago’s mental health care system she inherited by increasing city funding for nonprofits — but not reopening city-run clinics – succeeds.

“We are already seeing tremendous results from this transformation,” Lightfoot said during an event at the Access Community Health Network’s Back of the Yards facility. “We have completely redesigned our approach to mental health.”

After running for a second term as mayor less than a week ago, Lightfoot announced Monday that the Chicago Department of Health would award $3.1 million to 12 nonprofit organizations to provide mental health services in Chicago.

This will bring the number of nonprofit groups using city funds to provide mental health care through what officials call the city’s Trauma Informed Care Centers to 50 organizations and enable approximately 60,000 Chicagoans get behavioral health care in Chicago’s 77 community areas. in 2022, Lightfoot said.

That’s a massive increase from 2019, when the city provided mental health care to 3,651 patients, mostly through 12 city-run mental health clinics, Lightfoot said. This “one size fits all” system was insufficient, she added.

“The fact is, we inherited a mental health system with significant deficiencies, especially in communities of color,” Lightfoot said.

Former mayor Rahm Emanuel sparked a political storm in 2012 when he closed six of the city’s 12 public mental health clinics to close what was, at the time, a huge budget shortfall.

During the 2019 mayoral campaign, Lightfoot joined other candidates in pledging to spend $25 million to restore the clinics. At a campaign forum, Lightfoot said that “of course we should reopen clinics, but we need to go much further than that. We need to focus on building mental health infrastructure here in the There are a lot of different service providers who frankly have done and are doing a better job of providing services to people in need than the clinics have.

In October 2019, Lightfoot made it clear she would not reopen clinics Emanuel closed, angering progressive aldermen and groups who accused the mayor of breaking a campaign promise.

Lightfoot’s choice to lead the Chicago Department of Public Health, Dr. Allison Arwady, had her confirmation delayed months after fully supporting the mayor’s decision not to reopen clinics.

Additionally, Lightfoot never convinced the General Assembly to allow the city to change how it taxed the purchase of real estate, another campaign promise. During the campaign, Lightfoot proposed changing the flat tax to a graduated levy, which would force high-value properties to pay more. This additional revenue was to be used to increase city funding for mental health services.

But even without that additional funding, Lightfoot’s first spending plan doubled the city’s spending on mental health to $19 million, and what Lightfoot called a “transformation” began.

Lightfoot’s approach to mental health care in Chicago — which she called a “holistic strategy” that offers “evidence-based solutions” — relies on contracting with neighborhood organizations that, according to her, already enjoy a high level of trust in Chicago neighborhoods.

“The vision has come true,” Lightfoot said, calling herself a “strong advocate” for mental health care. “We are on the right path.”

But Ald. Rossana Rodriguez Sanchez (33rd Ward), who led the city council fight to fund mental health care, has repeatedly said that city-run mental health clinics provide a higher standard of care than organizations in nonprofit, in part because city employees get paid more and have better benefits.

“We continue to fight for the care we all deserve,” Rodriguez Sanchez said. “For the jobs clinicians deserve. This neoliberal model is not that.

Rodriguez Sanchez said she was unable to obtain details about the type of care those 60,000 people received and the intensity of that care. City officials should work to ensure care is appropriate, sustainable and sufficient, Rodriguez Sanchez said.

Clinicians who are well paid and have job protections are less likely to burn out and quit, allowing them to provide ongoing care for their patients, Rodriguez Sanchez said.

In 2021, progressive members of the Chicago City Council pressed Lightfoot to create a program that sends a team of social workers, police and paramedics to respond to 911 calls for help involving someone in a health crisis. mental. Lightfoot agreed to set aside less than $2 million in the city’s 2021 budget.

Lightfoot claimed credit for the programs on Monday, saying his goal was to keep people with mental health crises and substance abuse disorders from being sent to prison.

“We don’t need people in jail, we need them to get help in the community, in the clinics,” Lightfoot said, adding that she wanted to reduce unnecessary contact between people in crisis. or sick with first responders.

In 2022, Lightfoot ensured his budget would have enough votes to pass by agreeing to spend $6.3 million to hire 29 new staff at the city’s public mental health clinics, a 73% increase in the staff who represent the largest investment of taxpayers’ funds in these clinics. since 2011.

As of June 1, these newly created positions were unfilled, Rodriguez Sanchez said.

“The investment in CDPH has not gone far enough,” said Rodriguez Sanchez, who continued to call for the reopening of public mental health clinics “so that more people can access this essential resource in their community. With clinicians who are well paid (and) able to provide excellent care.

Progressive city council members demanded additional funding, as did Local 31 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents clinic staff.

In total, the city’s 2022 budget calls for $89 million to be spent on mental health care. Most of that funding will be spent on Chicago’s stimulus package, which is fueled by federal COVID-19 relief grants.

Contact Heather Cherone: @HeatherCherone | (773) 569-1863 | [email protected]