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 

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