State budget crisis straining mental health efforts

July 27, 2012 (CHICAGO)

The largest mental health facility on the city's South Side was closed last month because of budget cuts.

The closure happened quietly on the South Side at the end of last month - so quietly that patients unaware of the shutdown are still showing up for treatment.

"Everybody needs help sometimes, man; everybody needs help sometimes," says patient Andre Herring.

For more years than he could remember. Herring found help for his problems at the Community Mental Health Council on east 87th Street. But the 18,000-square-foot facility has all but shut down because the State of Illinois has cut its funding to zero.

"It hurts me right now why they're closing it down. That brings tears to my eyes because that was my support. That was my support," said Herring.

"Only reason I'm here is seeing the thousand patients that need to be referred with medication," said renowned psychiatrist Dr. Carl Bell, who has watched the clinic he began building 37 years ago fall into shambles. Also, for years the treatment center tried to endure the Illinois bill backlog.

"When the state sends you your money very slowly and your infrastructure starts to crumble, you don't have a good accounting of anything," said Bell.

When the city closed a half dozen of its mental health treatment centers earlier this year, it referred some of its patients, including Moab Jones, to the state funded center on 87th Street.

"By this place closing and I come down here actually for nothing makes me more angry," saidJones.

"There's no leadership, there's no comprehensive planning taking place," said Matt Ginzberg. "One of the core functions of public health is to be looking over the system."

Mental health advocates are demanding the resignation of City Health Commissioner Bechara Choucair, accusing him of mismanagement. But Illinois State Senator Donne Trotter (D.-Chicago) says the state shares the blame for not coordinating efforts with the city.

"Without the community health council being here, those people have no place that they can go to any more, at least not here in this area," said Trotter.

On the city mismanagement allegation, a spokeswoman told abc7 "it's absolutely unfounded. Nobody is left without care."

But Moab Jones is not so sure about that and wonders what may happen to him without treatment.

"The worst scenario, I'm gonna wind up back in jail, or hurt, or hurt somebody, or somebody hurt me, because I get so mad," said Jones.

Dr. Bell is appealing to the state to restore money to at least help patients in their transitions to other treatment centers. Right now, he's doing the work without pay but there are hundreds of patients still unassigned to clinics and doctors.

Despite what the city says, we met a least a couple of people Friday unsure about where they will be in the system.

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