Panel members at the Feb. 13 town hall meeting included Senator Daniel Biss and State Representatives Robyn Gable and Laura Fine.Submitted Photo

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On Feb. 13, Turning Point Behavioral Health Care Center hosted its 14th annual town hall meeting, at which a panel of elected officials and local experts discussed the impact of the current political and economic climate on mental health services in Illinois. More than 100 people, many of whom represented agencies from Skokie, Evanston and throughout the North Shore, attended the meeting held at Skokie’s Public Library. Worries about cuts in State funding for mental health and social service programs appeared to dominate concerns.

Ann Fisher Raney, chief executive officer of Turning Point, said, “the State government is in transition, and the department of mental health and the offices that oversee our work are undergoing changes. It is essential for everyone to be educated and aware of available needs and resources in the community. Turning Point’s commitment is to provide expert, affordable care to all that need it, and we depend upon our local professional providers and legislators to collaborate with us to make that happen,” she said.

When asked how the State’s financial condition will impact funding of mental health and social services, State Senator Daniel Biss said, “I’m very worried. I’m very, very concerned.” With the new Governor, “there’s a different set of priorities that we’re trying to understand.

“What we do on our tax code and the steps we take to ensure there’s adequate revenue for the programs that we need to run will be, without a doubt, the most important policy decision we make this spring. It’s very, very critical we get it right. It’s critical for the provider communities to be engaged in that decision. I don’t want to pretend that if we get that wrong that there’s other ways to improve the situation that don’t involve deep and devastating and harmful cuts.

“That’s the first place where I’m going to be focused this spring,” Sen. Biss continued. “I’m looking forward to working with everyone at Turning Point and the provider communities to make sure that we make wise, sound and reasonable and just decisions, which will certainly be a possibility, but difficult.”

State Representative Robyn Gabel was asked how the enrollment of 540,000 additional people for health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act has increased demands on the State. Rep. Gabel said the State has had difficulty keeping up with applications, particularly those for long-term care, but said they are doing some things to address that.

Rep. Gabel added, “The number of State employees has plummeted since the early 2000s. At this point in time we have one of the fewest number of employees per capita in the country. We are 48th. We have 54 employees per 1,000 people and other states have in the 70s and 80s.”

State Representative Laura Fine said the State needs to keep in mind that making cuts in social services may end up costing more in the long run. She gave an example where the State cut $110 million from a preventive mental health program. A study showed, though, that those cuts cost the State $131 million in increased costs in hospitalizations and institutionalizations.“ In the beginning it looks great,” she said, “but in the end it costs more.”

Rep. Fine said other examples include funding homeless prevention, teen-pregnancy prevention, programs for youth and child care. “By focusing our resources on these programs we already have in place, we can not only save millions in dollars, but we can improve the quality of life for many people,” she said.

On Feb. 18, Governor Rauner unveiled his budget which proposes cuts of $82 million to the Division of Mental Health and $62 million to the Division of Developmental Disabilities, Rep. Gabel told the RoundTable. At this point these cuts are just proposals.