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Chicago Mental Health Cuts: Protesters Occupy City Hall On Day Of Planned Clinic Closures

Posted: 04/30/2012 5:59 pm Updated: 04/30/2012 8:26 pm

Woodlawn Chicago Mental Health Center Rahm Emanuel

Updated story

As the city prepared to close three more mental health clinics Monday, Chicago mental health advocates protested outside Mayor Rahm Emanuel's City Hall office.

According to the Mental Health Movement, the coalition leading ongoing protests against the mayor's clinic consolidation plan, Chicago's City Hall will close earlier than usual -- at 4:30 p.m Monday -- ahead of a press conference advocates had slated for 5:15 p.m. The group instructed those interested in participating in the press conference to arrive before 4:30 and proceed to the building's fifth floor.

NBC Chicago reports that, as of early Monday evening, five protesters have been arrested for breaching a barrier during their City Hall demonstration. Advocates also reportedly moved their press conference outside City Hall.

(Follow Monday's occupation live here.)

The group reports that one demonstrator was arrested earlier Monday during the demonstration in the lobby outside the mayor's office. WGN notes that protesters have said they are prepared to stay put in City Hall for days to bring additional awareness to the city's plan. They are demanding that the city clinics remain open, public and fully funded.

Earlier Monday, the group protested outside both Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn's office and President Obama's 2012 campaign headquarters in downtown Chicago.

Outside Obama's Prudential Plaza campaign office, some four dozen advocates protested and delivered a leader to the president seeking a "pardon" from the cuts they say will have a devastating impact on the clinics' clients. The clinics are slated for closure by the end of the day Monday.

"Shame on Rahm Emanuel for possibly hurting the president’s plans for universal health care, by him denying health care to the poor and the mentally ill," N'Dana Carter, a protester and clinic of a city-run clinic, told CBS Chicago.

Emanuel has been unrelenting in his consolidation plan, which the city claims will save it some $3 million, with one minor exception. Progress Illinois notes that the mayor's office confirmed Monday that the Woodlawn Mental Health Center would now remain open -- though only as a "satellite office" staffed by two therapists.

That change may have come after several individuals in the city for the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates visited the Woodlawn clinic, the site of an ongoing protest against the cuts, last Thursday morning.

Ingeborg Breines, co-director of the Nobel Prize-winning International Peace Bureau, and Shan Cretin, chair of the Nobel Prize-winning American Friends Service Committee, both urged the city to halt its clinic closure plan.

"Chicago is able to raise the funds to sponsor showcase events like the Nobel Laureate Summit or the upcoming NATO meeting," Cretin said. "I urge the mayor to be equally energetic in finding the funds to support the community mental health centers."

After a series of protests before the closures, Mental Health Movement activists barricaded themselves inside the Woodlawn clinic as its shutdown deadline neared. After police secured the clinic, the protest moved outside, where demonstrators have been camped for 14 days, despite pressure from police to leave. Thirty arrests were reported during the occupation.

Dr. Bechara Choucair of the Chicago Department of Public Health, has argued that all displaced patients will continue to have access to quality care, but the Mental Health Movement said the consolidations will prevent some people from seeing their doctors or getting their medications. Further, they argue that the cuts have already meant that 18 patients who no longer can receive mental health care in their neighborhoods have been hospitalized or admitted to the psychiatric ward.

Last Tuesday, Emanuel claimed that the cuts will actually improve the mental health services Chicago offers, and the city will offer a CTA card for the first month to help ease the financial burden of longer commutes to access services.

"We're actually adding patients who were denied service because we didn’t have the resources," Emanuel told the Chicago Sun-Times. "Now, I understand peoples’ protests. They have a right to do that. If there was an arrest dealing with trespassing for other issues, I’ll look into it. But, I want people to remember: I take the issue of providing benefits and care to those who need mental health benefits seriously."

See photos from the Woodlawn Mental Health Center occupation, below, courtesy of Margo Elena Mejia and HuffPost blogger Mark Cassello:
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Filed by Joseph Erbentraut  |