Thousands affected by mental health clinic closure

August 1, 2012 4:11:12 PM PDT
The Community Mental Health Council on the 8700-block of South Constance Street closed Wednesday due to state budget cuts, but that didn't stop Dr. Carl Bell, a psychiatrist, from meeting with patients outside of the building.

"I couldn't have anybody in the building because there's no liability," said Bell, who founded the clinic 37 years ago. "There's no insurance for the building. I'm seeing patients and I'm giving them medication and notes about their condition, but I'm referring them to another facility."

The clinic treats 20,000 patients a year who are mostly low-income. Bell says the clinic had financial problems because state Medicaid payments arrived months late.

However, the Department of Human Services says the clinic mismanaged its $20 million yearly state grant.

"They have not made payroll in many months, cancelled health insurance for employees and their families, and have been the subject of mounting complaints," the Department of Human Services said in a statement.

"I admire Dr. Bell a great deal but there are some fiscal issues that have to be attended to and my first priority is to make sure we attend to those," said Illinois Governor Pat Quinn.

Bell said CMHC closed its doors one month after state funding stopped.

"Because we haven't been paid and haven't had staff to do accounting and track money, our infrastructure is frayed. They've been strangling us. Probably by accident but slowly but surely," Bell said.

Meanwhile, other state-supported social services agencies are still referring patients to CMHC, only to be turned away.

"So what do you do now? I don't know. We'll try to find her a new psychiatrist and services somewhere else although I struggled for a while to find services, especially on the South Side," said social worker Abby Claeys.

Bell believes there could be thousands of patients once treated by CMHC who are forced to seek new sources for help with their mental illnesses- a process that can be difficult after the closing of half of the city's mental health centers in 2012.

Bell says Quinn has forgotten the most important people affected by all this.

"It's the patient. It's the patient. So I'm going to be here and I'm going to fulfill my ethical responsibility for which I am licensed by the State of illinois as a physician and surgeon," said Bell.


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