Worry grows over clinic closings

August 27, 2009 (CHICAGO) All services will remain the same, for now. However, that could change by next month, when officials will be assessing how the state's budget deficit will affect operations at a number of clinics.

Patients from the city mental health clinics planned to protest downtown Thursday. They are worried about the future of the clinics.

Nevertheless, the health department says all of them, as of now, will remain open. At a Thursday press conference, Chicago Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Terry Mason tried to reassure people that all of Chicago's mental health clinics, which service about 6,000 people, will stay open, and none of them will be consolidated.

The system faces financial concerns. State and city funding is falling short in a bad economy.

In early spring, there were plans to shut down five buildings and consolidate services. That changed, however, when the city got federal stimulus money. The city pumped in $2.5 million into the program.

Four of the clinics threatened were on the city's South Side.

Even though there is no word of closings yet, community activists, mental health board members and a patient say they're still concerned with the threat.

"I'm diagnosed with profound depression. It affects me both physically and mentally. I need the clinic to have a place to go to talk, to work my challenges out. There are a lot of people like me. I take medication. The medication does help, but it doesn't help completely because sometimes I am so depressed I can't get out of my bed," patient N'Dana Carter said.

"When the state doesn't meet its obligation to fundamental health services, there are consequences. We fully understand the important of mental health care, especially to the people of limited means. And we understand the consequences of untreated mental illness," Mason said.

Critics say the city failed to properly bill Medicare, blaming that gaffe for some of the financial problems. Even so, the health department says it's only part of the issue. They are trying to fix the problem by properly billing Medicare and trying to fix computer issues.

A September 10 meeting is scheduled to further explain the issue.

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