OAKLAND — Patients at the city’s four remaining mental health clinics say it's tough getting an appointment with a psychiatrist at the public clinics as the city struggles to find doctors for unfilled positions.
“Now there’s a doctor one day a week, but that’s not enough,” said Calvin McCloud, a patient at the Greater Grand Mental Health Clinic at 4314 S. Cottage Grove Ave.
McCloud said he’s had to change clinics twice since the city closed six clinics in 2012. He has struggled to maintain a relationship with a psychiatrist because of the instability.
“As a patient, you have to bond before you really trust them, and that can take months,” McCloud said during a news conference for Mental Health Movement Tuesday.
Other patients who tried to cut ties from the embattled clinics related problems finding and building trust with a new doctor. One even said another patient told him that he thought his new psychiatrist was trying to poison him with a prescription.
In July, Dr. Sylvia Santos retired, and the Chicago Department of Public Health has struggled to find qualified psychiatrists to fill vacancies at the clinics, which have seen five years of cutbacks and closures. There are now four clinics open.
“There is a national shortage of psychiatrists, which has presented challenges in filling these positions,” said Christina Villarreal, a spokeswoman for the city's Health Department. “CDPH has posted psychiatry positions repeatedly and done community outreach to help recruit candidates, but professionals in this field are often lured by more competitive private and nonprofit sector positions, which can pay significantly more and do not have residency requirements.”
Villarreal said the clinics still have three psychiatrists on staff and have worked with a temp agency to bring in psychiatrists as an interim solution.
Patients said the psychiatrists only have time to come in about once a week to fill prescriptions.
Activists said they worry the ongoing vacancies are part of a move by the city to destabilize the remaining clinics and create a self-fulfilling prophecy: Since the clinics are serving fewer and fewer patients, they must close.
“Who wants to go to a job that might end in six months?” said N’Dana Carter of the Mental Health Movement, which has fought for increased funding for mental health from the city.
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