Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart speaks out against mental health clinic closures

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart speaks out against mental health clinic closures
Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart bows his head in prayer before speaking about the importance of mental health services at the Episcopal Churches of the Advent and Nuestra Senora. The goal of the meeting was to urge the city to re-open closed mental health clinics.

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart admits it. He made a mistake when he described the Cook County Jail  as “the largest mental health provider in the state.”

Last night, he clarified his statement.

“I’m the largest provider of mental health services in the country,” Dart told an audience at Episcopal Church Nuestra Señora in Logan Square.

He was at the church to speak out against the closure of half the city’s mental health clinics earlier this year. He said the criminal justice system ends up picking up the tab when mental health services are cut.

“We have limited money. We know that,” Dart said. “But when we don’t fund services, let me tell you what happens. They end up in my jail.”

Dart said one-third of inmates have diagnosed mental health problems, meaning about 3,300 of Cook County’s inmates are mentally-ill and in need of services.

Dart was one of several speakers at the event organized by Logan Square Neighborhood Association and Mental Health Movement Latino Chapter.

Another speaker was Debbie Delgado, a patient of Chicago’s mental health clinics. She described how she turned to her local clinic, Northwest Mental Health Center, when her son was shot and killed. Since his death, she says her younger son has been struggling with depression, especially after Northwest was closed in April.

“I already lost a son in the street,” said Delgado. “Now I’m losing a son at home.”

Delgado has a lengthy commute to another mental health clinic, it’s more than an hour each way. She says the walls are so thin at the new clinic that she can hear the conversation in the next room.

“When the mayor says he got better places for us, he’s a liar,” said Delgado.

The groups say hospitalizations are on the rise as a result of clinic closures, citing city data that showed psychiatric hospitalizations in April of 2012 were double that of the previous year. Chicago Department of Public Health’s director of public affairs, Efrat Stein, has said these numbers are inaccurate and that hospitalizations during the first quarter of 2012 were down when compared with 2011.

Rebecca Paz-Ford, clinical psychologist at Lurie Children’s Hospital, said the clinic closures have had a ripple effect throughout the mental health system. She said the summer months are usually a slower time for her department, but this year, they’ve had record wait lists for services.

Paz-Ford spoke about a young client who is dealing with severe depression who was told that she would have to wait six months to see a therapist at one of the city’s mental health clinics. Many pediatricians are now telling parents of children with mental health problems to take them to the emergency room to see a psychiatrist in order to bypass lengthy waiting lists, she said.

“Families are waiting until their children are in crisis to get help,” said Paz-Ford. “Being in the worst recession in decades, we need more, not fewer, community-based mental health services.”

The evening ended with a roll call for six area alderman: 1st Ward Alderman Joe Moreno, 6th Ward Alderman Rey Colon, 26th Ward Alderman Roberto Maldonado, 30th Ward Alderman Ariel Reboyras, 31st Ward Alderman Ray Suarez and  32nd Ward Alderman Scott Waguespack. None of them were present neither was their staff. Advocates say all six were invited.

The Department of Public Health did not respond to The Chicago Reporter’s inquiry by the deadline. However city officials have insisted in the past that clinic consolidation has not hurt patients and has improved mental health service in Chicago.

Photo credit: Jonathan Gibby



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