Mental health community asks legislators to halt cuts
By Jenette Sturges email@example.com April 4, 2011 5:32PM
Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
AURORA — The picture looks bleak for Illinoisans in need of mental health care services.
“A person with no will to live and no one to help them cannot get the help they need,” said Christine Potts, speaking Monday at a legislative forum of the local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness held at Provena Mercy Medical Center. “A sick mind will not seek out help, will not pound pavement or knock on doors.”
Potts told the story of her son, who died of a drug overdose after he aged out of her health insurance and began self-medicating with heroin when he could no longer get treatment for his severe depression.
“There are some programs out there, but they’re extremely hard to find,” said Potts.
Those programs and services could become even more scarce, or at least more difficult to qualify for, as state legislators must choose between sacrificing funding for mental health care services and digging the state out of its financial hole.
For those who turned out for the forum to talk with and ask questions of Fox Valley state legislators Sen. Linda Holmes of Aurora, Rep. Kay Hatcher of Yorkville, and representatives from the offices of Rep. Tom Cross of Oswego and Linda Chapa LaVia of Aurora, the news was dismal.
“We just have serious, serious budget issues,” said Holmes, who said the state’s backlog of unpaid bills and pension obligations could take years to fix, putting health and human services on the back burner. “There are still going to be more drastic cuts.”
But those cuts would be at the expense of people who may not be able to afford private health insurance but still cannot qualify for Medicaid, according to Karen Beyer, executive director for the Ecker Mental Health Center in Elgin.
“The responsibility for care has been shifting toward community health care centers, but the money has not followed,” Beyer said.
Medicaid, she said, often does not cover the cost of providing services to clients when they are eligible, and eligibility has been harder to achieve for others.
Proposed rate reductions to Medicaid, Beyer said, would make mental health services available only for people with the most severe cases of debilitating mental illness.
“In October 2010, the state drastically reduced services available to people without Medicaid,” said Beyer. “As a result of these limitations, we have been able to provide to primarily working poor people only 25 percent of the services we did before these rationings when into effect. Seventy-five percent of services to these people are gone.”
But any effort to put more funds into community mental health services — even if it means better outcomes for patients and lower rates of homelessness and incarceration as proponents said over and over again Monday morning — may be slow in coming in Springfield.
Legislators said there was still time this season to get through any simple bill that mental health advocates might propose to reduce excessive, costly regulations.
“If there is one simple thing right now we could bring forward that would serve the public, serve their interests, still protect the people who need protecting, yes, we could do it,” said Hatcher.
But the one thing advocates want — an end to the budget cuts that put their services on the chopping block — may not come this budget cycle.
“This is the fourth consecutive year mental health and disabilities services have been cut ... ,” said Lynn O’Shea of the Association for Individual Development, which provides services for people with developmental disabilities and mental health issues.
“Just say no. Go to your leadership and say, ‘My area is saying we can’t afford any more cuts to our community mental health and disabilities service systems,’” O’Shea told the legislators.
“We need to find a different way to balance the budget.”