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.”

Lindsey also pointed to a survey finding that says that a psychiatrist wait time of one-to-two months at 40.6% of agencies in Fiscal Year 2016 has jumped to a one-to-two month wait at 64.0% of centers in Fiscal Year 2017. And a four-month wait or more at 25% of agencies has edged up to 28% of providers.

Overall, the survey estimates that waiting lists to access all sorts of behavioral health treatment has ballooned to 12,696 individuals.

“A mental health crisis can’t be scheduled three weeks from next Tuesday at 4:00 p.m.,” said Lindsey. “But that’s where we find ourselves, turning away mothers, children who need our help, today, not tomorrow, not next week, but today.”

Beyond the immediate budget impasse, Lindsey also cites the survey’s finding of a vast disinvestment in behavior health by the state over the last 10 years.

In Fiscal Year 2008, the state legislature authorized Mental Health grants from General Revenue Funds totaling $368,281,300 to community agencies. In Fiscal Year 2018, in Governor Bruce Rauner’s proposed budget, the number had fallen by more than half to $170,622,300. Addiction treatment money followed the same pattern, dropping from $165,602,200 to $78,633,500.

“Some of the GRF was transferred to cover the state’s Medicaid mental health and substance use services, which I estimate totals $40 million for mental health and $15 million for addiction treatment,” said Lindsey. “But that shifting of a small amount money in no way excuses shameful financial disinvestment in behavioral health that has occurred and is continuing to occur today despite the disingenuous promises being made.”

Lindsey, who has organized a legislative advocacy day, today, May 17, for CBHA members to lobby lawmakers, is urging Rauner and legislators to strike a budget a deal.

“It’s been two years,” Lindsey said. “You pleaded with voters to get your jobs. So, do them. Now.”

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