As International Overdose Awareness Day Looms, Illinois is Losing the Battle

The Community Behavioral Health Association of Illinois recognizes International Overdose Awareness Day, a global event held on 31 August each year, that aims to raise awareness of overdose and reduce the stigma of a drug-related death. It also acknowledges the grief felt by families and friends remembering those who have died or had a permanent injury as a result of drug overdose.

Thousands of people die each year from drug overdose in Illinois alone.

According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, there were 2,772 Illinois statewide drug overdose deaths in 2018. Of those, 2,167 (79%) were opioid overdose-related fatalities. Illinois is on pace to far in 2020 to exceed those tragic 2018 overdose numbers.

Counties have been reported unusual spikes in the number of overdose death during the COVID-19 epidemic.  For example, as of today, Cook County is on track to pass 2000 opioid-related overdose deaths for 2020, compared to 605 last year. And much like the coronavirus outbreak, the opioid epidemic has disproportionately (50%) affected African Americans on Chicago’s West and South Sides.

Over the last few years, numerous initiatives in Illinois have been aimed at reducing the number of overdoses. The Illinois Department of Human Services/Division of Substance Use Prevention and Recovery (IDHS/SUPR) administers the Drug Overdose Prevention Program (DOPP) and the State’s Opioid Action Plan which has been responsible for saving hundreds of lives since 2015. And Community Behavioral Health Association members are on the front lines to implement the state’s plan which is focused on prevention, treatment/recovery, and response.

Regarding social aspects of the recent deaths during the CoVID-10 pandemic, one county health department reported that many who died were living alone, having personal or marital difficulty, suffered from depression or were recently engaged in drug rehab or treatment. With this in mind, CBHA believes Illinois and the behavioral health community have the responsibility – and the opportunity – to develop new strategies and expand on the current activities to address the recent increase in overdoses that are also being fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic.

International Overdose Awareness Day spreads the message that overdose death is preventable. We can and must stem the tide of overdoses here in Illinois.

In remembrance and honor of all those who have died of drug overdoses in Illinois, we can and must do more to turn back the tide of overdoses swamping our state.

Marvin Lindsey, CEO, Community Behavioral Health Association of Illinois

Top Illinois Behavioral Health Advocates Join 50-State Virtual Conference

(Springfield, IL) – Led by the Community Behavioral Healthcare Association of Illinois, behavioral health care organizations throughout Illinois will participate in a two-day advocacy event next week – Hill Day at Home ­–  drawing more than 2,500 attendees from all 50 states and showcasing the impact of the COVID-19 health pandemic on behavioral health care providers.

The June 23-24 is organized by the National Council for Behavioral Health.

“This important event gives us an opportunity each year to advocate for bipartisan solutions to help providers in our state and throughout the country deliver life-saving treatment and services to people coping with mental illness or substance use disorders,” said Blanca Campos, Vice President of Policy & Government Affairs at Community Behavioral Healthcare Association of Illinois (CBHA).

This year, the annual event – Hill Day at Home – will occur virtually.

 “We may be apart, but behavioral health care providers nationwide are united in our efforts,” National Council for Behavioral Health President and CEO Chuck Ingoglia said. “We have a record number of attendees this year because our members face incredible challenges and understand the importance of advocacy. No matter where our members participate from this week, we stand together in efforts to work with Congress on bipartisan solutions.”

Hill Day at Home will include discussions to provide guidance on providing treatment and services throughout the pandemic. Clients have faced incredible barriers to access due to the pandemic, but behavioral health care providers have responded to the challenge by leveraging telehealth solutions.

“Changes in state and federal telehealth regulations since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic have accommodated the movement of behavioral health care treatment and services online, and clients have benefited greatly as a result of providers’ ability to shift to virtual delivery of services,” said Campos.

In Illinois, National Council for Behavioral Health members operate Community Mental Health Centers and Substance Use Treatment Centers, which transform the lives of thousands of individuals, youth, and families each year, notes Campos.

Hill Day attendees will hear experts discuss telehealth in a session titled “Telehealth During COVID: The Pros, Cons and Next Steps.” Additional workshops will address eliminating barriers to access for those in need of behavioral health care. The National Council for Behavioral Health will recognize Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Rep. David Trone (D-Maryland) with Legislator of the Year awards for their work on bipartisan solutions.

The National Council for Behavioral Health represents 3,326 organizations serving over 10 million adults, children and families living with mental illnesses and addictions.

Learn more about Hill Day here. A full schedule of events is here.

OP-ED: Action Must Replace “Statements” on Racial, Healthcare Injustice

OP-ED: We, behavioral healthcare workers, are fortunate to work in an industry where we are guided by broad ethical principles that includes a code of ethics centered around social justice, dignity and worth of the person. We provide care and advocate for all people – no matter what race, financial status, religion, or mental illness.

However, our industry is, as we know, imperfect. Why? Because we operate within a society that has long minimized the worth of certain people, minimized their healthcare, and minimized certain illnesses, such as mental health. Such minimization is no longer tolerable.

As CEO of the Community Behavioral Healthcare Association and as an African-American man, a host of emotions have swept over me as a result of the events surrounding the killing of George Floyd. I thought about writing a “CBHA statement” as other organizations have done that condemns institutional racism, the resulting mental health issues that follow, and the pile-on discrimination of mental illness. A brutal, unbroken circle. While such institutional statements have their place, for some reason, an institutional “statement” seems, for me, inadequate. The sound of fury must be followed by actions if the fury of words is to have any meaning.

CBHA has and always will be about actions.

The question is: how can CBHA promote social justice, dignity and worth of the person, particularly those who have been marginalized? Answer: CBHA can act boldly and broadly.

Here’s what we, CBHA and behavioral health care providers, can do:

  • We can support and propose and fight unflinchingly for legislation that promotes social justice – including both racial and healthcare justice.
  • We can continue to embrace our association’s By-laws which affirm our commitment to reflecting the society’s diversity in our Board of Directors, staff, and programs.
  • We can lend our voice, our time, our ideas to public policy initiatives, committees or taskforces whose aim is to develop solutions and fight for social and healthcare justice.
  • We can fight like hell against healthcare policies that seek to maintain the status quo or seek to further discriminate against historically marginalized communities.

This is list is by no means exhaustive list. More will follow.

In the meantime, on Thursday, June 4, as CBHA’s representative to a national health disparities task force convened by Centene Corporation, I focused laser-like on the disproportionate number of COVID-19 deaths and other health disparities suffered by Latinos and Blacks and Native Americans. My intent was simple. I discussed, no –I called it out – the institutional racism and the institutional behavioral healthcare discrimination that our industry faces and sought to identify steps that are urgently needed that Centene can take to move us all toward a more just healthcare system.

We’re just getting started.

Marvin Lindsey, CEO, Community Behavioral Healthcare Association

OP-ED: CBHA Opposes Trump Administration Backdoor Plan to Shrink Medicaid Funding

Op-Ed: The Community Behavioral Healthcare Association strongly opposes caps on federal Medicaid funding, such as block grants, because they pose an enormous threat to the health and well-being of millions of our nation’s must vulnerable citizens, including the over 700,000 Illinoisans who receive lifesaving care through Medicaid expansion.

On January 30th, 2020, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released its Medicaid block grant proposal under the name “Healthy Adult Opportunity” (HAO). The HAO initiative would give states the option to receive their federal Medicaid funding as a block grant, or a lump sum, to cover nondisabled adults, while providing states more autonomy to manage their programs.

Despite being touted as an opportunity for states to take greater control of their health program, block grants amount to cuts to Medicaid and eventually translating into greater challenges in getting care, including mental health and substance use disorder services, for millions of senior citizens, people with disability, non-disabled adults, and children.

This form of static funding fails to adjust for changes in need such as economic recessions, natural disasters, public health crises, and demographic changes. States would be forced to cut health benefits, limit eligibility, restrict access to prescription drugs, decrease provider reimbursement, precisely when people are hurting the most.

A block grant funding structure undermines the progress that has been made nationally and in Illinois to address opioid overdose deaths and increase access to mental health services.

As the proposed block grant program, if approved, would be optional for states, CBHA joins industry colleagues and advocates in calling on our state elected leaders, including Governor Pritzker, to firmly and quickly denounce the Trump administration’s Medicaid Block Grants plan.

Blanca Campos, MPA

Vice President of Policy & Government Affairs

Community Behavioral Healthcare Association of IL (CBHA)

OP-ED: Illinois’ Failure on Mental Health Funding Has Fueled a Crisis. Fair Tax Fix?

Chronic under-funding combined with a spike in mental health and substance use calamities, such as the opioid epidemic, has created an untenable behavioral health crisis in Illinois. More people than ever need the help of the organizations we represent, yet, the State of Illinois falls tens of millions of dollars short year-after-year to meet these needs. The gap grows, people suffer, and the crisis persists.

We have seen how a financially-starved behavioral health system has harmed Illinois families.

Over the past decade, state government funding for community mental health and substance use has plummeted by a combined $140 million. Every year, community-based mental health and substance use providers are faced with the decision of what services to slash, which staff to fire, or whether they will be able to remain open. All the while, the demand for substance use and mental health services escalates without adequate services available due to relentless state government budget cutting. Meanwhile, Illinois faces a surge in suicides, an explosion in opioid related deaths, and an eruption of children exposed to trauma.

Moreover, Illinois Mental health and substance use providers bled financially during the 2015-2017 budget impasse. Community providers who were ‘lucky’ to tap into their reserves and/or extend bank credit lines – as they simultaneously cut care and created interminable waiting lists – are still struggling with the financial fallout. Other providers were not so lucky to survive. They shut their doors. People lost care.

To be clear, people in need of these services simply don’t disappear when the service disappears. They show up in emergency rooms. They lose their jobs, homes. They lose their kids. They end up in jail – or the morgue.

We must reverse this situation in Illinois. But we must first invest in our mental health and substance use programs and at the same time save the state of Illinois money.

And it starts with the Fair Tax fix.

On behalf of Community Behavioral Healthcare Association of Illinois (CHBA), I would like to express our strong support of Governor JB Pritzker’s fair income tax.  CBHA is a statewide association of community behavioral health providers that deliver mental health and addiction treatment, prevention and recovery services to thousands of children, youths, adults and families daily.

Why?

By adopting a progressive tax, generating $3.4 billion annually in new revenue, it will provide Governor Pritzker and lawmakers the money needed to invest in our mental health care services. That investment can begin with the governor and the legislature supporting legislation, The Mental Health Modernization Act, House Bill 2486 and Senate Bill 1673, sponsored by State Rep. Deb Conroy (D-Villa Park) and State Senator Heather Steans (D-Chicago).

That legislation would steadily increase state investment in mental health treatment over the next four years by $50 million. The measure would also change how the state regulates and funds mental health providers, ensuring they have the means to innovate to meet patients’ needs, and rewarding those providers who produce good health outcomes.

Most of the new funding would come through the state’s Medicaid program, drawing at least a 50% match in federal dollars. That would limit the state’s out-of-pocket cost to no more than $13 million a year over the four years, above what is spent now on mental health treatment.

The Fair Tax would help pay for the investment in the out years.

Governor Pritzker should be applauded for seeking to put Illinois on a more sound financial path with the Fair Tax. We urge the legislature to support it and place it on the ballot. We will stand with many others encouraging Illinoisans to protect and promote a stronger, more just mental health and substance use system funded by the Fair Tax fix.

We cannot afford to fall short any longer.

Marvin Lindsey, CEO of Community Behavioral Healthcare Association of Illinois

IL Lawmakers Push 4-Year Plan to Rescue Beleaguered Mental Health Care System

After the historic, two-year Illinois budget impasse financially knee-capped the state’s community mental health providers, derailing care for more than 80,000 individuals, a new legislative plan is being advanced in Springfield by lawmakers and mental health advocates that seeks to provide a long-term financial rescue.

(Springfield, IL) –After the historic, two-year Illinois budget impasse financially knee-capped the state’s community mental health providers, derailing care for more than 80,000 individuals, a new legislative plan is being advanced in Springfield by lawmakers and mental health advocates that seeks to provide a long-term financial rescue.

The legislation, House Bill 2486 and Senate Bill 1673, sponsored by State Rep. Deb Conroy (D-Villa Park) and State Senator Heather Steans (D-Chicago), would steadily increase state investment in mental health treatment over the next four years, by $50 million. The measure would also change how the state regulates and funds mental health

cbha_marvin-lindsey_hearing_pubhlth
CBHA CEO Marvin Lindsey

providers, ensuring they have the means to innovate to meet patients’ needs, and rewarding those providers who produce good health outcomes.

Most of the new funding would come through the state’s Medicaid program, drawing at least a 50% match in federal dollars. That would limit the state’s out-of-pocket cost to no more than $13 million a year over the four years, above what is spent now on mental health treatment.

Advocates and lawmakers pushing for the new focus on mental health treatment funding say the legislation is long overdue, a funding problem compounded by the two-budget impasse that plunged the state’s mental health system into crisis.

“The two-year budget impasse completely destabilized Illinois’ behavioral health system with nearly80,000 residents losing access to mental health,” said Community Behavioral Health Association (CBHA) CEO Marvin Lindsey. “Illinois’ behavioral health system will need 7 to 10 years to recover from the financial body blow inflicted by that self-made crisis, and the legislation proposed by Senator Steans and Rep. Conroy provides a roadmap for financial recovery and long-term investment.”

Tim Sheehan, CBHA’s Chairman of the association’s Public Policy committee and Vice President of Lutheran Social Service of Illinois, highlighted the budget impasse impact.

“During the stalemate, mental health providers across the state received only court-ordered Medicaid dollars, but state grant money was halted, causing layoffs, service cuts, and program shutdowns of those providers across the state,” Sheehan said. “The first casualty of the budget impasse was the Delta Center in Cairo, the poorest city in Illinois, which was forced to closed completely.”

Moreover, Lindsey said that a survey of Illinois community mental health providers during that time showed that 73% had either shut down a program or cut services.

“For far too long, state policymakers have ignored addressing the foundation of the mental health system – Medicaid rates and antiquated state regulations,” said Heather O’Donnell, Senior Vice President of Public Policy and Advocacy at Thresholds, a major provider of mental health services in the Chicagoland area. “We have focused too much on small pilot projects, but never get at the root of the problem. With these bills, we will finally provide a real solution: improving access to foundational mental health treatment.”

“As chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee overseeing human services agencies, I have seen firsthand devastation caused by the Rauner Administration to the state’s already fragile mental health infrastructure,” said Sen. Steans, D-Chicago. “With these proposals, we can change course, work with the Pritzker Administration to create a stronger, more effective and more efficient mental health service delivery system and give families throughout Illinois the treatment resources and support they need and deserve.”

Conroy echoed Steans’ comments.

“Thousands of Illinois families across the state of Illinois are victims of our mental health crisis. For too long, they have had nowhere to turn as the mental health services infrastructure was decimated, particularly over the last four years,” said Rep. Conroy, D-Villa Park, who is chair of the House Mental Health Committee. “By creating a multi-year solution to reinvest and restructure our mental health programs with targeted, federally matched dollars, we can provide renewed hope to the millions affected by our mental health crisis.”

Marvin Lindsey, CEO, CBHA: mlindsey@cbha.net 

$35,000 Student Loan Repayment for Illinois Psychiatrists OK’d by IL House

(Springfield, IL) – The Illinois House has given its unanimous backing to a legislative plan that would create a student loan repayment program for behavioral health professionals who commit to working in the state’s rural and underserved areas.

The House approved 101-0 legislation, House Bill 5109 sponsored State Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie), to provide student loan assistance to eligible mental health and substance abuse professionals practicing in community mental health centers in underserved or in rural communities designated by the federal government as professional shortage areas.

According to the federal Health Resources and Services Administration, Illinois has the 6th largest number of mental health professional shortage areas in the U.S. with 85 of 102 counties in Illinois having areas designated shortages.

“Illinoisans who need mental health counseling can wait up to three months or longer before they see a specialist due to a severe behavioral health workforce shortage,” said Community Behavioral Health Association of Illinois C.E.O. Marvin Lindsey. “As Illinois faces an ongoing opioid crisis and a reemergence of meth usage in Southern Illinois, the state’s behavioral workforce shortage cripples our response to the crisis.”

Continue reading “$35,000 Student Loan Repayment for Illinois Psychiatrists OK’d by IL House”

$10 Million Owed to Illinois Mental Health Providers Stretching to 2014

CBHA_Lindsey_Hearing_MCO(Chicago) – A top behavioral health advocate group told Illinois lawmakers at public hearing in Chicago on Thursday that multiple insurance companies managing the state’s Medicaid program owe community care providers an estimated $10 million on overdue bills stretching back to 2014.

Community Behavioral Healthcare (CBHA) CEO Marvin Lindsey revealed to members of the House Human Services Appropriations Committee that some MCOs have made progress on paying providers since the panel’s last legislative hearing in March 2017.

“While some Managed Care Organizations have made progress in paying outstanding claims, before the start of the new contract date, our members are still owed $10 million that date back as far as three years,” said Lindsey.

The House panel, chaired by State Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago), is reviewing the Illinois Department of Health and Family Services’ new, $60 billion Medicaid managed care contract with seven different insurance companies that took effect January 1, 2018.

Among those behavioral health providers with outstanding bills payable by managed care insurance companies is Lutheran Social Services of Illinois, which is currently owed $2.3 million. Of that amount, $1,026,000 is 90 days or more overdue and $436,615 is more than 365 days overdue.

“According to their contract with the Illinois Department of Health and Family Services, managed care companies are required to pay 90% of claims within 30 days and 99% of claims within 90 days,” Lutheran Social Services of Illinois Home and Community Services Vice President Tim Sheehan. “Fortunately, some Medicaid managed care organizations have made a concerted effort to pay down outstanding claims while others have not.”

Lindsey also noted that the state has contracted a private auditor to examine MCOs’ estimated liabilities to providers and that a report is scheduled to be released next month, but that the auditor has yet to contact community behavioral health providers.

“I am not aware of the auditing firm contacting one of our members,” said Lindsey. “And an interim report is due February 2018 and the clock is ticking on both the report and our members getting paid.”

The Department of Family Services hired Meyers and Stauffer, LLC, effective November 1, 2017, to audit the current MCOs to estimate liabilities for services provided by community behavioral health providers from July 1, 2014 to December 31, 2017.

“Last March, we testified before this committee on the MCO contract on what we believed would lead to a smoother process and transitions for community behavioral health providers, and providers getting paid for services delivered was near the top of that list,” said Lindsey. “Over the last 9 months, some managed care companies have made progress in paying back claims, but the fact remains other insurance companies are seriously lagging behind and community behavioral health providers are still owed $10 million.”

mlindsey@cbha.net

Local, State Advocates Sound Alarm on Illinois Mental Health Care Crisis

(Springfield, IL) – Local and state behavioral health advocates are sounding the alarm on Illinois’ swelling mental health crisis.

“Wait times to see a psychiatrist in Illinois’ community mental health system can now range from 4 to 6 months,” said Tim Sheehan, Chairperson of the Public Policy Committee of the Community Behavioral Healthcare Association of Illinois and Vice President of Home and Community Services at the Des Plaines-based Lutheran Social Services of Illinois. “The lack of an adequate behavioral health care workforce is causing longer and longer wait times for people struggling with mental illness to receive care, a situation which has reached crisis proportions in the state.”

Sheehan noted that according to the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, the inadequate behavioral health workforce is responsible for the state’s “insufficient community behavioral health services capacity.”

In fact, Illinois ranks 30th in mental health workforce availability with 844 people per mental health worker compared to the national median of 752, Sheehan points out.

A top Illinois behavioral health advocacy group leader says that the limited access to front-line mental health care in Illinois is “staggering and shameful” while local community agencies’ budgets are spending more on administrative costs due to the state’s new managed care system.

“There is a staggering and shameful lack of access to behavioral health care represented by a shortage of specialists, such as child and adolescent psychiatrists, advanced practice nurses, and physician assistants,” said Community Behavioral Health Association of Illinois CEO Marvin Lindsey. “Meanwhile, the administrative staff costs of providing community behavioral health services have increased dramatically, by as much as two to five times, since Illinois implemented Medicaid Managed Care.”

Sheehan agreed.

“More money is being devoured by administrative costs associated with paperwork demands of Illinois’ expanded Medicaid Managed Care program and less on investing in an adequate, front-line behavioral health workforce to care for patients,” Sheehan said.

Lindsey, Sheehan and other behavioral health advocates are planning a two-prong state legislative offensive to address Illinois’ deepening mental health care crisis.

“We’re planning on pushing a Resolution in the Illinois General Assembly to declare a ‘mental health care emergency in Illinois’ to raise awareness of the critical problem of access to care,” Lindsey said. “And we are going to advance legislation that would comprehensively address the behavioral health workforce crisis, which is undermining mental health care in Illinois.”

Fixing behavioral health workforce is a “priority,” says Sheehan.

“For community mental health agencies across the state, including Lutheran Social Services of Illinois, providing more support, more training, and a deeper bench to the behavioral health workforce is a top advocacy priority,” said Sheehan. “It’s critical.”

mlindsey@cbha.net

Survey: $142 Million Owed to Mental Health Providers as Psychiatrist Wait Times Mushroom, Services Shudder

(Springfield, IL) – A new survey by a top behavioral health advocate group reveals that the state of Illinois owes community mental health centers statewide a staggering $142 million in unpaid bills, a debt that is squeezing care for people struggling with mental illness and addiction.

The Community Behavioral Healthcare Association of Illinois released on Wednesday a survey of state community mental health providers that shows that these agencies are owed for fiscal year 2017 a total of $142,558,150 or nearly 90% of what has been budgeted for the current fiscal year that expires on June 30.

Moreover, the survey shows that, in Fiscal Year 2016, 73.5% of community agencies had reduced or eliminated behavioral health programs and that in Fiscal Year 2017 an additional 33.7% of agencies further cut or ended services.

“To say that community mental health providers are operating on fumes would be incorrect. They consumed the fumes long ago,” said Community Behavioral Healthcare Association of Illinois C.E.O. Marvin Lindsey. “The financial starvation of providers has shriveled our ability to serve an exploding need to the extent that Illinois is fast becoming a behavioral health system Potemkin Village.”

Continue reading “Survey: $142 Million Owed to Mental Health Providers as Psychiatrist Wait Times Mushroom, Services Shudder”