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Chicago’s Psych Patients Didn’t Disappear, They Just Got Sicker

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(Nov. 12, 2012) After six of Chicago’s 12 mental health clinics were closed in 2011, nearly 500 clients “disappeared” entirely – lost track of as a result of "poor planning, mismanagement, inaccurate information, and profound insensitivity," according to an eye-popping Chicago blog report (“Patients ‘disappeared’ in mental health closings,” Newstips, Oct. 31).

IllinoisThe “disappearance” of hundreds of people after a cost-saving move surprises even us here at the Treatment Advocacy Center, where we see a lot of treatment travesties in the course of monitoring barriers to treatment of severe mental illness.

What doesn’t surprise us is the paragraph about halfway through editor Curtis Black’s story: “Nor was the transition smooth – as shown by a spike in the rate of psychiatric hospitalizations of CDPH clients in April, the year of the closing. In that month, hospitalizations were nearly twice as high as the average over the previous year and a half” (our emphasis).

Mental illness is a pay-now-or-pay-later disease. People who don’t get routine treatment when they are more stable often end up needing emergency treatment after they become less stable – and when it costs more. Along the way from more to less stable, they also often generate significant public costs from arrest, incarceration, victimization, etc.

States, counties and cities – apparently Chicago among them – keep making policy decisions based on the delusion that it saves money to avoid providing treatment to people severe psychiatric disease. As Chicago is already finding out, it does not.

Too few individuals who need mental illness treatment are getting it in America today. That a city could lose hundreds of people who actually were getting the help they needed (probably more like thousands of people – read the blog) is inexcusable. These people need to be found and returned to treatment, for their own well-being and that of their families and neighborhoods. 

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