Mayor Lori Lightfoot campaigned on a promise to reopen six mental health clinics closed by her predecessor, but her 2020 budget kept them closed.
Instead, Lightfoot has earmarked $9.3 million to increase the capacity of the city’s five remaining clinics and support “20 trauma-informed care centers” in “the most needy areas affected by violence and poverty” on the south and west sides of Chicago.
On Monday, the mayor decided to bolster the “trauma-informed” mental health system she’s trying to build, awarding $3.1 million in new grants to a dozen new providers.
They will join an existing network of 38 mental health providers who are expected to provide “behavioral health services” to 60,000 Chicagoans this year. That’s a whopping “1,500%” increase from the 3,651 people receiving mental health services at clinics across the city in 2019, according to the city.
At the beginning of autumn, Chicago’s 77 Community Areas will have local partners providing mental health services to adults, youth and their families – whether or not they can afford to pay, have health insurance or are US citizens.
At a press conference at Access Community Health Network, 5139 S. Ashland Ave., Lightfoot said she “inherited” a mental health system with “significant gaps, especially in communities of color. “.
“These shortcomings are linked to generations of disinvestment, the lack of a clear commitment and plan to ensure all residents have access to care, and fundamentally the lingering mental health stigma,” said the mayor.
The only way to close that gap was to bite the bullet and “transform this broader mental health care system” by implementing a “comprehensive, grassroots strategy that meets people where they are,” he said. Lightfoot.
“Our framework is not a one-size-fits-all approach that can only reach a few thousand people. We have developed a holistic strategy that can serve tens of thousands of Chicagoans by integrating and investing in a full range of mental health services through this community care. This approach is consistent with our values of equity and investment in the neighborhood,” she said.
“Because we know communities of color have the largest gap in care, we are channeling substantial new resources to those communities that need them the most, primarily on the south and west sides. … By integrating mental health services into existing and trusted community clinics, we increase access to services while linking mental health and physical health care, treating the whole person.
Lightfoot noted that the need for mental health services “has grown exponentially during the pandemic.”
“With this expansion we are announcing today, we are ready and able to serve anyone in need,” the mayor said.
To appease city councilors demanding the reopening of the city’s closed mental health clinics, Lightfoot’s 2022 budget also included extended hours of operation and telehealth services at five remaining clinics in the city; the hiring of a new team of psychiatric nurse practitioners and clinical therapists; and the launch of a new mental health program for children and adolescents.
Lightfoot also touted his efforts to use “historic levels of street outreach funding” to bring “trauma-informed care” to neighborhoods most affected by violence; getting mental health professionals to respond to even more 911 calls for behavioral health emergencies; and expanding a so-called “narcotics arrest diversion” program.
Almost as important as the new grants and providers is the campaign to, as the mayor put it, “dismantle the stigma around mental health.” The cornerstone is a supposedly “unspoken” campaign with stories of real Chicagoans “bravely sharing their experiences.”
“When you look at the number of people who have stepped up to share their stories, you’re going to see someone [who] looks like you. You’re going to see someone who has experience like yours,” Lightfoot said.
“We want people to know about this program because we don’t want people to be left without treatment, without care. We want people to get the help they need.
Matt Richards, the Chicago Department of Public Health’s deputy commissioner for behavioral health, said the city’s mental health budget has “increased seven times this year – to $89 million.” Speaking to Lightfoot, he said: “He’s our mental health mayor.”
“We plan to reach 60,000 people this year, a 15-fold increase since 2019. And perhaps most importantly, we plan to serve 15,000 children under the age of 18 this year,” Richards said.
“Put simply, our strategy is working. There is still a lot to do. Believe me, we know. But we also know that it’s important to notice the progress we’ve made.