Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=113201
Story Retrieval Date: 5/21/2013 10:39:18 PM CST
Alexis Fragier, a patient at Greater Grand/Mid-South mental health clinic, is afraid.
She sees her psychiatrist regularly, takes her medication, and says she feels better than she has in years. On days she doesn’t have an appointment, she often goes and sits in the waiting room, just for the company of the other patients.
It takes three buses, but she doesn’t mind – a small price, she says, for the familiarity of the place she has spent the majority of her nearly 30-year struggle with mental illness.
Greater Grand is one of four clinics set to close sometime in the next two months.
And as the finality of the city’s plan begins to sink in, Fragier says she is afraid – afraid of going to Englewood, the closest clinic, afraid of starting over, afraid that she won’t make it.
“I’m safe here at Greater Grand,” said Fragier, 50. “It took me so long to get my life back … I don’t want to start all over again.”
Fragier will be able to follow her psychiatrist to a new clinic, and city officials say the closures will actually improve quality of care by balancing patients and staff across the remaining eight clinics.
But the change itself can be daunting for mental health patients, said Dr. Fred Osview, professor of clinical psychiatry at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine. He said that despite city efforts to ease the transition for the more than 2,000 patients whose primary clinics are closing, many will fall through the cracks.
“Their ability to change gears is limited,” Osview said. “There’s a risk that a certain number of patients simply won’t make the move.”
A combination of cognitive and emotional problems can make even small changes seem impossibly big, said Dr. Daniel Yohanna, vice chair of the psychiatric department at the University of Chicago and an expert in community-based mental health. Remembering which bus to take, or whether to turn right or left at the corner, can be overwhelming.
“You’re introducing a whole new problem-solving process to people who don’t, by and large, solve problems very well,” Yohanna said.
In addition to the logistical challenges, for many patients, their visits to the clinic are their only source of social interaction. Symptoms like paranoia and anxiety, and the social stigma associated with them, make mental illness very isolating.
“Even if they just say hello to the receptionist on the way in, or sit and have a cup of coffee, it provides a social structure in which they’re functional,” Osview said. “Challenging that can have real consequences for them.”
But at least one clinic director believes that change can play an important role in recovery.
“Change can be good,” said Hattie Wash, director of the Beverly-Morgan Park and the Greater Lawn clinics. “It allows them an opportunity to practice what they’ve learned in treatment, in terms of reintegrating back into society and being able to function.”
Greater Grand, along with the clinics in Beverly-Morgan Park, Woodlawn and Back of the Yards, will close sometime in the next 30 to 60 days, health department officials said.
When that happens, Fragier knows her recovery hinges on her ability to make the trip from her home on the 7600 block of South Shore Drive to the Englewood clinic at 63rd and Lowe.
“I don’t want to walk around here sick,” she said. “I want to be able to function, I want a life, a normal life.
“But I’m scared. Englewood? That’s no place for me.”