23 arrested in mental health facility protest

April 12, 2012 10:00:00 PM PDT
Mayor Rahm Emanuel's controversial decision to close six mental health clinics triggered an angry protest on the city's South Side.

The mayor proposed closing the centers and the Chicago City Council approved his plan unanimously last year. But those who are fighting to keep them open have not given up hope, and overnight, they took a drastic step to draw attention to their cause.

By mid-morning, the movement to save Chicago's mental health treatment centers was getting the kind of attention its leaders and the patients they are helping had sought for months. Every major news media outlet in the city sent representatives to the news conference on the South Side.

"I'm pushing, I'm trying to try to keep this here clinic open," said mental health consumer Linda Hatcher. "We need it open. I need some help."

Hatcher was among the 23 people who barricaded themselves inside the city's Woodlawn clinic Thursday afternoon.

Early Friday morning, Chicago police arrested the occupiers, most of whom are clients at the center.

"I'd say about 70 percent of the people inside were patients," said community activist Toussaint Losier. "Elderly, suffering from depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder."

In his 2012 budget, Mayor Emanuel recommended reducing the number of city health clinics from 12 to six. Two closed last week, another four -- including Woodlawn -- are scheduled to be shuttered at the end of this month.

"Everyone who depends on us for services will continue to have access to services," said Chicago Health Commissioner Bechara Choucair.

Dr. Choucair says the restructuring the city's mental health treatment system would provide services more efficiently to the uninsured while referring those with private insurance elsewhere.

"A small number of clients who already have insurance will be able to transition their care to community mental health providers in their neighborhood," Choucair said.

Mayor Emanuel, who attended the Sox home opener Friday afternoon, was unavailable for comment on Thursday night's arrests.

In Woodlawn, patients indicated there could be more demonstrations between now and the end of the month.

"I don't care about going back to jail," Linda Hatcher said, "because whatever it takes for us to try to keep it open and try to help me and other people."

Of the 23 people arrested overnight, 12 were charged with trespassing.

There is no indication at this point that the city will negotiate any changes to its budgeted plan to close all six community mental health centers.


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