The Washington Post offers a good preview heading into this week’s D.C. Council oversight hearing on the Department of Mental Health. The big debate at the Wilson Building this Thursday may center on the department’s aim to shutter its mental-health clinics and replace them with private entities. The department argues that thousands of its clients already attend private clinics and the move would save millions.

But opponents to the proposal say private clinics are not as well staffed and can close without notice.

The Post writes:

“Critics of the District’s plan to transfer 4,000 clients say that the staffs at the public clinics are better paid, are better trained and tend to stay on the job longer than at private clinics. Those critics — clients, psychiatrists, caseworkers and union leaders representing workers who stand to lose their jobs — have a vested interest in keeping the clinics open. But others, such as Ken Duckworth, medical director for the National Alliance on Mental Health, also raise similar concerns.

‘Outpatient mental health is notoriously difficult to fund,’ Duckworth said. ‘The clinics soon realize that doctors are expensive and want fewer of them. Doctors get overwhelmed and say, ‘I didn’t come here for this.’ ‘”

But DMH was basically told to make the move:

“A court monitor requested that within three years the city determine whether private providers could do the same work. Last year, an audit commissioned by the city concluded that private clinics were more cash-efficient than public clinics and could do the job if the city helped them build their staff and facilities.”

We addressed the private takeover of group homes in the story of Osman Abdullahi’s death.