Illinois must get smarter as it builds its behavioral health infrastructure

Gov. JB Pritzker said last week when announcing the creation of the Behavioral Health Workforce Education Center that the state was building “the best behavioral health system in the nation.”

It was a pretty bold thing to say. So my associate Isabel Miller and I asked some follow-up questions: How long will it take and how much will it cost?

A spokesperson’s response was rather disappointing: “Under Governor Pritzker’s leadership, the state has invested hundreds of millions of dollars to rebuild our behavioral health infrastructure and the Governor is committed to continuing these investments. essential year after year to build the best system in the world. nation. Illinois has climbed the national rankings by putting our people first, and we’re on the right track if we continue to make generational change. Through our statewide partnerships and continued investments, Illinois will soon serve as the national standard for a behavioral health system that puts workers first and provides the best possible care to those in need. .

Of course, that didn’t answer any of our questions. And no Brownie points for brevity either. Sorry to make you read it.

Also, the background information the governor’s office sent about the administration’s progress didn’t quite match the governor’s flowery rhetoric.

Recent national rankings released by Mental Health America, a group founded more than a century ago, show that Illinois fell from 11th place overall in mental health in 2018 to 9th place this year. An overall ranking of 1 to 13, according to the organization, “indicates lower prevalence of mental illnesses and higher rates of access to care.”

However, the state’s ranking for adults actually slipped during this time from 8th to 9th, and the youth ranking remained at 13th. This despite the hundreds of millions of dollars spent since the start of 2019 on mental health initiatives.

Even so, a key stakeholder praised the governor’s plan to use the new Behavioral Health Workforce Education Center to lead the revamp of the long-troubled Choate Mental Health and Developmental Center in Illinois’ Deep South.

Equip for Equality released an investigative report in 2005 that documented many horrors in Choate. The band called for the facility to be closed at the time. “Nearly two decades later,” the group said via a press release last week, “heightened surveillance activities show little has changed.”

The group says Choate residents continue to be “separated” from their community “without receiving the services necessary to actually explain why they ended up there.” Residents, the group said, continue to be “afraid of staff and their peers, and afraid of retaliation if they report staff abuse”.

“A lot of the recent news reports are about incidents that happened a year or more ago,” said Stacey Aschemann, Equip for Equality’s vice president responsible for monitoring conditions in Choate. “Based on our recent monitoring, we can say with no doubt that these issues continue to be persistent issues.”

So why has the state taken so long to act? The governor told reporters that the state simply does not have the financial resources to sufficiently address the issue. The new Behavioral Health Workforce Education Center has been in the works for five years and will hopefully help the state increase the size of the workforce enough to deal with the issues, not just in Choate, but across the country. ‘State. With more tax revenue, the state can start to get things under control.

And, make no mistake, the problems are serious, despite what national rankings may show. According to a report released last week by Capitol News Illinois, Lee Enterprises and ProPublica Illinois, 15,000 people are currently on a waiting list for community placement with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Incidentally, these media’s reports of Choate sparked intense interest in the establishment’s many problems and helped spur the administration to act, a fact that Pritzker himself acknowledged.

There are, of course, parochial concerns about any changes to Choate. Sen. Terri Bryant (R-Murphysboro), who represents the area, said the central issue is with facility management (a good point) and said she opposes moving residents out of the facility ( not so good). AFSCME, of course, is worried about the future of its members in Choate.

The bottom line is that the state just needs to get smarter. These issues have been around for decades and decades, and the people of Choate and thousands of others across this state deserve care and help, not physical abuse and neglect. Managers have to be better than that, so this attempt to bring new workers into the system and keep them there cannot fail.

Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and

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