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

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