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Lack of psychiatric care and collaboration cited as key concerns for McLean County's mental health action plan update

McLean County Board member and BHCC member Susan Schafer discussed a draft update on the county's mental health action plan during a meeting on Friday.
Eric Stock
McLean County Board member and BHCC member Susan Schafer discussed a draft update on the county's mental health action plan during a meeting on Friday.

A mental health provider wants McLean County to explore using sales tax revenue to pay for more advanced nurse practitioners to address a lack of care for psychiatric patients.

Tom Barr, executive director of the McLean County Center for Human Services in Bloomington, serves on the county's Behavioral Health Coordinating Council (BHCC). The council is taking recommendations to update the county's mental health action plan. That plan was first crafted in 2015.

At the council’s quarterly meeting on Friday, Barr suggested the county consider using part of the 1% sales tax it getsfrom Bloomington and Normal for mental health to pay for more advanced nurse practitioners to treat psychiatric patients.

Barr said because of state funding cuts over multiple years, CHS is only able to provide psychiatric care for people with the most severe cases and the greatest need.

“The demand has at best stayed the same while the resources to fund those demands have significantly decreased since this plan began,” Barr told the BHCC.

Barr, who is retiring next year, said he's not advocating the money specifically go to the Center for Human Services, but to anyone who can provide psychiatric care. He says advanced nurse practitioners can prescribe medications. He said that can help alleviate the shortage of psychiatrists.

“Saying we are going to recruit more psychiatrists is respectfully like saying we are going to get the state to pay us a reasonable rate (for Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements),” Barr said. “We’ll all be pushing up daisies before that happens.”

Lack of collaboration

The county's mental health action plan has tried to address ways to improve collaboration between public and private health care providers and local governments. A draft report says the silo approach has gotten worse during the pandemic because of all the uncertainly it has caused.

David Taylor, president and CEO of the United Way of McLean County, also serves on the behavioral health council. Taylor said the committee needs to come up solutions, something that’s not included in the 90-page draft.

“If we are pointing out that as a gap is our abilities to address this effectively and then we don’t make a recommendation to it, it really misses an opportunity there,” Taylor said.

McLean County administrator Cassy Taylor said the BHCC and the county's Criminal Justice Coordinating Council (CJCC) should also collaborate more often since the goal of the mental health initiative is to keep people out of the criminal justice system.

The BHCC has scheduled a special meeting for Jan. 14 to review proposed changes and adopt a revised action plan. The plan would then go to the County Board for a vote during its Feb. 10 meeting.

New BHCC supervisor

The council announced the county has hired a new supervisor of the BHCC. Vanessa Granger-Belcher is a licensed clinical counselor who previously worked in college counseling administration.

Belcher replaces Trisha Malott, who resigned to join the Regional Office of Education for McLean, DeWitt, Logan and Livingston counties as its first behavioral health coordinator.

Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.