Mental Health Care
Our city, and our nation, are in the midst of a mental health crisis. As we head into a fourth year of COVID-19, people are depressed and anxious. It’s estimated that 10% of American youth are experiencing depression so severe that it affects their ability to function. The vast majority of people with substance use disorders have no access to treatment. It is absolutely vital to get more help to people who are suffering. But the need isn’t simply for more care – we also need better mental health care. Our first step will be to reach out to Cook County, to find ways we can build and expand on Cook County Health’s mental health infrastructure and resources. Working together, we can provide good, accessible care while saving taxpayer money.
We must also implement the “Treatment Not Trauma” approach across our city, deploying mental health professionals rather than armed police officers to respond to mental health calls. Such an approach has been shown not only to resolve such crises with dramatically lower incidence of violence than the traditional approach, but using non-police in such situations actually saves taxpayer money.
When we discuss the costs of doing something, we also need to consider the costs of not doing anything – or just continuing doing the same old thing. Affordable mental health care is still a cost, but it doesn’t cost as much as not providing affordable mental health care, as the rising rates of crime, homelessness, social anomie and civic distress have shown in recent years. A strong public system of care keeps us all safer, keeps our city more livable, and reduces the costs of other services. In short, investing in averting problems costs less than paying to remediate them afterwards; smarter policies turn out to be the cheaper policies in the long-run.
Lead pipes connect more Chicago homes to water mains than in any other U.S. city – nearly 80% of Chicago residents are potentially exposed to brain-damaging metal in their water. President Biden’s infrastructure program has made billions of dollars available for cities like Chicago to begin lead-pipe replacement. This isn’t a matter of “competing interests for government dollars” – these are funds available specifically for this purpose.
What we need to do is to look for how we can get the job done more efficiently and effectively, to stretch the dollars we do access as far as possible. Chicago is projecting costs five times the national average for replacing its lead pipes. Why aren’t we instead looking to what other cities, such as Denver and Detroit, have done to lower the per-unit costs of replacement? This includes such common-sense steps as replacing lead lines at the same time that we’re digging up and replacing the connected water mains.
Food Apartheid, Medical Care & Disparities
Much like citywide lead line replacement, the issue of food apartheid provides a good example of both the kinds of steps we can take to tackle inequality that leads to disparate health outcomes for working families AND and the fact that taking intelligent action to improve equity and invest in all people’s health costs less and increases productivity in the long run. That’s why Brandon will expand frontline workers in the Chicago Department of Public Health and create a public fund to make home care a more accessible public service. He also will expand mental health services, as discussed in the answer to the first question.
In addition, his fiscal plan for the city includes working with labor unions on comprehensive reform of the city employees’ health care plan to lower cost and improve quality. These reforms can be marketed to neighboring municipalities, which can be expanded to employers and other plans, injecting more price competition into the market and making more widely available options like tele-medicine, and neighborhood and on-site work clinics.
Brandon also intends to expand guaranteed income programs to reach more Chicago families, which will help more families afford the care they need. Finally, one of the biggest impediments to families getting ahead is the burden of medical debt; at the county level, where he serves as a commissioner, Cook County has become one of the leading jurisdictions in the country paying off residents’ medical debt. Brandon will bring this effort to city government, as well.
Health care relates to all the other challenges we face. This is something Brandon Johnson understands from his own life experience. As a classroom teacher, he worked closely with children who were experiencing hunger, chronic illness and health crises. Growing up, he often waited in long lines at Cook County Hospital for treatment for asthma. As mayor, he will work to ensure we have accessible and affordable health care available to all, throughout our city.