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Community groups demand adequate staffing for city mental health centers

by Chika S. Oduah
Oct 06, 2009

Community groups are maintaining pressure on the city to keep Chicago’s mental health clinics open, even though Mayor Daley has already promised to do so.

They say the clinics also need adequate staffing.

Members of The Coalition to Save Our Mental Health Centers have been regularly picketing Ald. Margaret Laurino’s 39th Ward office for the past eight weeks, demanding that she address the needs of the nearby North River mental health clinic.

The fate of Chicago Department of Public Health clinics has been shaky within the past year and five of the clinics nearly closed until Mayor Daley announced in April that $2.5 million of federal Community Service Block Grant funds will be allocated to keep the clinics open.

To seal the commitment, City Hall instituted a mental health task force committee made up of representatives from local organizations, including the Coalition to Save Our Mental Health Centers.

But groups involved in the committee say keeping the clinics open is not the only problem.

“Staffing is the big issue,” said Anne Irving, policy director for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union Council 3, which represents the workers of the city mental health clinics.

The Community Mental Health Board of Chicago is in agreement. Its Web site states that one of the objectives of the task force committee “should be to figure out how to keep all of the city mental health clinics open and adequately staffed.”

“The city needs to garner as much money as it can,” said Darryl Gum, chairman of the board. Gum said that the city needs to monitor its resources to keep the clinics staffed.

At the North River clinic, the number of clinical therapists has fallen from five to two, according to a clinic administrator. Citywide, the federal CSBG funds were expected to save 34 clinic positions from being eliminated. However, only four survived city budget cuts.