June 17, 2024

The Mayor’s allies want mental health clinics to be opened, and to lay the foundation for the ‘Treatment Not Trauma’ plan

Mayor Brandon Johnson campaigned on a promise to reopen Chicago’s shuttered mental health clinics and significantly expand an alternate response program that frees Chicago police officers from the responsibility of responding to mental health emergencies.

On Monday, a City Council committee held a “years in the making” hearing aimed at building the case for a new mental health care network under an approach called “Treatment Not Trauma”.

Health Committee Chairwoman Rosanna Rodriguez-Sanchez (33rd) opened the hearing with a full minute of silence for “all the people who were killed or injured by police in our city during a mental health emergency because we didn’t have the structures in place to help them.”

The hearing, she said, was “in the name of Quintonio LeGrier, Bettie Jones, Irene Chavez, Laquan McDonald and so many others who did not receive the care they so desperately needed. This work is for them, their family, and to ensure that this does not happen again.”

Among the speakers was the psychoanalyst Dr. Eric Reinhart, police, prison and public health anthropologist. Reinhart is among those being pushed by community advocates as a possible replacement for Dr. Allison Arwady.

He has spent 10 years doing what he calls “ethnographic research” on people “living with severe mental health” on the South and West sides of Chicago, who have been the hardest hit by the loss of mental health services.

Reinhart is not only urging Johnson and his allies in the Council to reopen the six mental health clinics closed by former Mayor Rahm Emanuel. What post-pandemic Chicago really needs, Reinhart said, is to reopen the 19 mental health clinics it had in the 1980s under former Mayor Harold Washington.

That’s just one aspect of Reinhart’s comprehensive plan to build a “community mental health system.”

The plan also includes creating an alternative response system that relieves police officers of responsibility for handling the dreaded mental health emergency calls, investing in community care by raising the wages of mental health professionals and significantly increasing funding for the Chicago Department of Public Health which has been “severely reduced” over the past 40 years and now relies on federal grants to bankroll “90 percent” of its programs.

“‘Treat Not Trauma’ is not just about mobile, non-policing crisis response but needs to be part of an integrated system to build a true community mental health system in Chicago.” Something that the city has never had and, frankly, no city in America has ever had,” Reinhart said.

“What we have now is a community mental health infrastructure that is sorely lacking. … We have 40,000 calls with a mental health component going to CPD in 2019 that they don’t want to answer, that they’re not well suited to answer. This leads to unnecessary police contact, unnecessary violence, unnecessary arrests, unnecessary incarceration in a country with an incarceration rate seven times higher than peer nations and no better public safety.”

Like Johnson, Lori Lightfoot, as a candidate, promised to reopen the six mental health clinics that Emanuel closed — but she kept them closed after she became mayor.

The Council initially delayed the confirmation of Arwady’s appointment because it did not support the reopening of those closed clinics.

Matt Richards, deputy commissioner for behavioral health, represented Arwady at Monday’s hearing. He made it clear that the commissioner who led Chicago through the pandemic, and who wants to stay tough under Johnson, is willing to work out a solution.

“We sincerely promise to be a partner with this mayor, with the chairman, with the people in this room … to make ‘Cóireáil Ní Tráma’. … We will be a productive partner in helping what happens,” Richards said.

Rookie Ald. Desmon Yancy (5th) said he supports an ordinance that outlines the ‘Treatment Not Trauma’ approach because “too often, people in crisis – especially people of color – find that the system we have in place is more likely to fail than to help.”

In December 2009, the issue took a personal turn for Yancy.

A friend – a Navy veteran and union organizer – was “suffering through a mental health crisis.” His family called 911, the senator said.

Moments after the police arrived, Yancy said. His friend was shot and killed in front of his wife and son on Christmas Eve.

“As someone with family members who have struggled with mental health issues – and myself, who have dealt with depression – I pray, in a moment of crisis, that they and we do not meet the same fate as these beautiful souls,” Yancy said, referring to his friend and others.

“They deserve better. We can do better. And we will do better with the passage of this ordinance.”

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