Mental health advocates call for Chicago public health commissioner to resign

Mental health advocates call for Chicago public health commissioner to resign

"Hey, hey. Ho, ho. Choucair and Rahm have got to go!"

That's what protesters from Southside Together Organizing for Power were shouting Monday afternoon as they gathered in front of the DePaul Center on State Street, calling for the resignation of Dr. Bechara Choucair, the commissioner of Chicago's Department of Public Health.

Protesters held up a picture of activist Helen Morley, a patient of the Chicago mental health clinics who died last week. Morley, who participated in many protests against the closure of clinics, had been quoted as saying: "If you close my clinic, I will die."

Many of the activists wore colorful scarves around their heads, something which Morley was known for.

Around 50 protesters gathered on the sidewalk, while four activists went upstairs to try to speak to Commissioner Choucair, according to STOP leader Matt Ginsberg-Jaekle.

The protesters eventually moved inside the DePaul Center, their chants echoing off the high ceilings, but were stopped by police. The head of security for the DePaul center later announced that the four protesters that went upstairs to the CDPH office had been arrested.

STOP claims that the department closed too many clinics too fast, leaving patients without care, which they say has resulted in psychiatric hospitalizations and arrests.

Protesters said patients who have been referred to private clinics haven't been able to afford their services or have been turned away. Mental health consumer and advocate N'Dana Carter says the closures have cost the city $250,000 in hospitalizations.

"Dr. Choucair should resign. We are calling for his immediate resignation, and if not his resignation, his firing," said Carter.

CDPH denies that clinic closures have resulted in any hospitalizations.

"The fact remains, each and every client [of city clinics] has a personalized transition plan, is being monitored closely, and all those who depend on the city for service will continue to have access to quality care," said department spokesperson Efrat Stein.

Stein says the number of hospitalizations of mental health clients is down this year, compared to last year, when all of the city's 12 clinics were still in operation. The closures of six clinics began in April.

"Over half of all the clients who are transferring their care to a community mental health provider, which is only 400 out of 2,900 served by the city, have already attended their first appointment," said Stein.

Stein pointed to the former Northtown Rogers Park clinic, which was one of the first to consolidate, merging with the North River Mental Health Center. She said 100 percent of the clients have transitioned their care to a new provider.

The protest marked the two-month anniversary of the occupation of the Woodlawn mental health clinic. Advocates are still calling for that clinic and the five others that were closed to be reopened.

© Community Renewal Society 2012

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