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Sound Health is a recurring series that airs twice each month on WGLT's Sound Ideas program.Support for Sound Health comes from Carle Health, bringing care, coverage, support, healthcare research and education to central Illinois and beyond.

Sound Health: Federal grant aims to fill gaps in mental health care in McLean County

David Sharar
Ryan Denham
Chestnut Health Systems CEO Dave Sharar.

Two Bloomington-based health care agencies are working to fill gaps in mental health care.

Joan Hartman, CEO of the McLean County Center for Human Services (CHS), said a $1 million federal grant shared with Chestnut Health Systems will enable the two agencies to coordinate care through better electronic medical records and by embedding some staff at each other's facilities.

“Our staff will have the opportunity to get to know each other and to feel like they are working together on behalf of their clients or patients, which is going to be a wonderful thing,” Hartman said in a WGLT Sound Ideas interview.

Joan Hartman
Joan Hartman

The four-year grant from from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) calls for Chestnut and CHS to conduct a community needs assessment, train and support peer staff to address trauma, grief, loneliness and other mental health needs, and provide coordinated care to more than 300 patients.

Chestnut CEO Dave Sharar said the grant also provides funding to set up internships for peer recovery specialists. Sharar said there's been high turnover among mental health professionals across the industry because of high stress, burnout and "burdensome" documentation.

“The demand is rising greatly, and in particular, the community-based care sector has felt the staffing shortage in a very acute way,” said Sharar, adding there's a lack of mental health care specialists entering the workforce.

Hartman said CHS hopes the new mental health specialist positions covered by the grant can become sustainable through billable services after the grant expires.

A survey in 2019 and 2020 showed one in five McLean County residents live with mental illness, while a needs assessment done last year shows 15% of McLean County residents lack access to medical care. The survey also showed 7% of people ages 12 and older need substance abuse treatment, but are not getting it, and 17% of McLean County residents lack access to counseling.

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