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McLean County Board to vote on changes to behavioral health spending rules

McLean County Board's Executive Committee approved an ordinance that — if the County Board approves Thursday — would change how the county makes its mental health spending decisions.
Emily Bollinger
McLean County Board's Executive Committee approved an ordinance that — if the County Board approves Thursday — would change how the county makes its mental health spending decisions.

A McLean County Board vote Thursday could change how behavioral health spending is determined.

Previously, the Behavioral Health Coordinating Council [BHCC] — an ad hoc committee composed largely of mental health experts in the area — made spending proposals. The County Board's Executive Committee approved an ordinance Monday to make the group an independent body, stripping members of that authority.

Instead, the McLean County Mental Health and Public Safety Advisory Council [FAC] would make those recommendations as an official and permanent advisory group to the county board. The FAC is a new group proposed in the same ordinance and was described to WGLT as a subset of the larger BHCC.

The executive committee was set to vote on the ordinance at June’s meeting, but county board Chair Catherine Metsker postponed action so the stakeholders — Bloomington and Normal — could weigh in. The city and town contribute shared sales tax dollars that are combined to create the Mental Health and Public Safety Fund.

Making the BHCC independent from the county board was not in June’s version of the ordinance. That draft proposed to make the BHCC and FAC both permanent advisory councils.

Executive committee members raised some questions about the language used in the ordinance, though most were grammatical.

The only substantial amendment was to give the BHCC control over the Mental Health Action Plan, a document drafted every three years meant to guide the Board on community behavioral health priorities.

Member Lea Cline raised concern over the original language in the ordinance, which said the BHCC was to “review and recommend updates to the [MHAP].” It did not say to whom.

“I think that is a problem,” she said.

County administrator Cassy Taylor clarified that the current path for action plan updates originates with the BHCC, but goes through the county board for approval. Multiple committee members, including longtime BHCC members Susan Schafer, said they understood the ordinance to give the BHCC and the county’s director of behavioral health coordination full control over the action plan.

Taylor said it was up to the executive committee to decide if it wanted to take the county board out of the equation and update language in the ordinance to reflect that.

“It's just making a change of who owns that document,” she said.

Members Jim Soeldner and Elizabeth Johnston spoke in favor of giving BHCC ownership. Soeldner is not on the executive committee but filled Val Laymon’s absence.

“I don't believe the county board could own the plan because then we could make changes to the plan without having any information, or I may not like the word blue in it, and I could vote to pass that,” Soeldner said.

Johnston said she’d be fine making the change since financial decisions would remain under the county board’s purview.

“I don't think that there's any other department that we have that is kind of like scrutinized to this extent, where we were micromanaging, like their plan of action,” Johnston said. “And so I would feel very comfortable with this plan, particularly because the money, any money that we have, that would be expended, would still come through us. We wouldn't lose that power.”

Members changed the ordinance to say the BHCC could review and update the MHAP and submit it to the director of behavioral health coordination for approval.

The ordinance passed with the amended language with seven members in favor and one opposed. Member Chuck Erickson, who cast the only no vote, said he needed more time to read over the changes before making a decision, though he’s undecided about the vote he’ll make Thursday.

Once the ordinance is approved — whether it's this month or a future month if it's shot down Thursday — BHCC and FAC can draft bylaws and start meetings. BHCC meetings have been suspended since March while this restructuring took place.

More on the agenda for Thursday

Also at Thursday’s meeting, the county board is set to vote on a slew of other items, including an agreement with Bloomington-based Chestnut Health Systems to use opioid settlement agreement funds that came to the county last year.

Funds will support an opioid prevention coordinator for the county, which Chestnut will supply. Taylor spoke to WGLT about a desire for this role at this time last year.

“We have decided that that would be the best use of the funds that we have,” said Erickson, who chairs the Justice Committee that first voted on the item at its meeting July 2.

Taylor said multiple people and departments in the county brainstorm how the county should spend the roughly $2.2 million it will receive over the next several years. If the prevention coordinator is approved, it will only use a small portion of those funds. They are still plotting how to use the remaining dollars.

“This is only one tool in the toolbox that we'll be using to try to address opioid use and abuse in our community,” Taylor said.

We depend on your support to keep telling stories like this one. WGLT’s mental health coverage is made possible in part by Report For America and Chestnut Health Systems. Please take a moment to donate now and add your financial support to fully fund this growing coverage area so we can continue to serve the community.

Melissa Ellin is a reporter at WGLT and a Report for America corps member, focused on mental health coverage.