Unmet Needs Causes West Side Community to Develop New Mental Health Program

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alt text By Kelli C. Walker, Environmental Health and Wellness Reporter, The Real Chi

The Coalition to Save our Mental Health Centers is expanding access to mental health services by moving forward with a plan to build a new mental health program on the West Side of Chicago that has been ongoing since June 2016.

The expansion comes after The Coalition collected over 10,000 signatures from West Side residents, and 60 endorsements from local institutions to place the West Side Expanded Mental Health Services Program on the November 2016 local ballot. The program was approved by 86.5 percent of residents on the ballot who agreed to a small property tax increase to fund the EMHSP, which will give the community the power to oversee the development of the mental health program with the assistance of a Board of Directors.

“The hospital decides what resources they want to provide, but our programs will fill in the gaps.”

The development of the EMHSP will be guided by a Board of Directors consisting  of nine members comprised of local residents, professionals, and consumers to help oversee the entire project. Those nine members are chosen by both the mayor and the governor; however, the mayor has yet to choose the last member of his four seats.

“We’ve had some challenges with the mayor appointing the last person, his community person [member], which would oversee some of the mental services from a hospital organization,” said Deacon Greg Shumpert, who serves as one of the board members.

The committee is in the process of choosing a provider for the program, which will determine the location. The dedicated mental health program is expected to open in early 2019 and will serve North Lawndale, Garfield Park, and the Near West Side.

Shumpert also said that the program will offer services like trauma training and youth outreach, which local hospitals are not fully equipped to handle.

“The hospital decides what resources they want to provide, but our programs will fill in the gaps,” said Shumpert. He noted that the EMHSP will support programs that will make mental health services in West Side neighborhoods far more robust and accessible. “We are willing to be mobile and go to senior homes, schools, and more, instead of making them go to us.”

The Coalition produced a Mental Health Community Needs Assessment after the EMHSP was approved in 2017 to determine exactly which resources the West Side currently lacks. The assessment determined that children and older adults have the greatest need for mental health services.

The assessment also included a community member survey which found that the main stressors that impacted mental wellness for children on the West Side are crime and education. For older adults, the main issues are financial difficulties and quality of life.

“Many of our communities are rich in resources, but fragmented.”

In the absence of a dedicated mental health program on the West Side, Mount Sinai Health System has continuously offered a limited set of resources to support mental wellness.

“We work closely with many other mental health, substance use, and faith-based providers to address the effects of violence and trauma in our communities,” said Dr. Paul Berkowitz, Mount Sinai Director of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health. Dr. Berkowitz went on to say that substance abuse, particularly the opioid addiction, is one area where the West Side has a great need for more mental health resources.

The Coalition previously worked to bring a similar program, the Kedzie Mental Health Center, to Irving Park in October of 2014, to provide service to the North Side communities of Irving Park, Albany Park, North Park and Forest Glen. The Kedzie Center Executive Director Angela Sedeño noted that its presence has proven to be beneficial to the community.

“We believe that we are helping to establish mental health awareness, to include awareness of suicide prevention and the impact of trauma,” said Dr. Sedeño.

The program provides services like Community Resource Coordination, which helps individuals finds other resources concerning insurance, housing, and child care This type of coordinated service is important for clients who may need assistance in other areas of their life, but are not aware of how to access them.

As Dr. Sedeño puts it, “Many of our communities are rich in resources, but fragmented.”