McLean County will open a behavioral health triage center next year, filling a gap in adult psychiatric services after the Center for Human Services closed its doors to new clients earlier this month.
The triage program allows for 24-hour crisis management, McLean County Administrator Bill Wasson said Friday at a meeting of the county's Behavioral Health Coordinating Council (BHCC). The program is an extension from the McLean County Center for Human Services (CHS) mobile crisis team.
The $400,000 triage program is fully funded in the county’s 2019 budget. CHS received a $200,000 grant from the Department of Human Services to fund the program, but the center was unable to provide staffing within the limited window and the grant was given to an alternate recipient.
Wasson said the triage program will cross-utilize existing psychiatric service providers in the county, with the possibility of utilizing staff from the various centers.
A Downtown Bloomington office and space in the Fairview Complex in Normal are the two possible locations for the center.
The triage center will provide psychiatric services primarily for adult clients. County leadership said they will need to seek alternate youth provider services to fill the gap.
Diane Schultz with The Baby Fold said she is glad the county is looking into child psychiatry care, but that it’s taking “so long” to see results.
“All of us not take our eye off of that prize,” Schultz said at Friday's meeting. “It is exciting and rewarding to hear what we’re doing with adults and the affordable housing, but the long-term solution for the county is what we’re doing with the children and the youth services to really get that pipeline flow stemmed.”
The county is considering utilizing telehealth psychiatry opportunities for youth services.
County Board Chairman John McIntyre said there is a nationwide shortage of psychiatrists. He said the county’s goal is to entice more into the area or find alternate solutions.
“This is an issue. Definitely an issue that we need to address,” McIntyre said. “How do we get more authority for APNs (advanced practice nurses), and correct me if I’m not using the right terms, to be able to prescribe?”
The BHCC discussed Friday a possible partnership with Illinois State University’s Mennonite College of Nursing to create a specialized psychiatry track for advanced practice nursing students.
CHS Director Tom Barr said APNs are able to provide continuous medication management for a client throughout their treatment.
Barr said under a collaborative working agreement with a psychiatrist, an APN would be able “to provide the medication assistance needed to the vast majority of people needing psychiatric services.”
Despite these telemedicine and specialized APN efforts, McIntyre said the county cannot give up on recruiting psychiatrists to the county. He also noted the possibility of offering student loan repayment plans as a tool, calling it a “justifiable use of sales tax money.”
Dave Sharrar, the director at Chestnut Health Services, agreed. He said mental health servicers in the county are better off pooling their efforts to bring psychiatrists into the county rather than competing with one another.
With the implementation of the triage center, Wasson said he hopes the county will now be able to look at long-term solutions to the deficit.
“This is a community issue,” he said. “But we have known from the beginning that psychiatric services, we do not have enough of in this community. Period. And we are woefully short on services for youth and juveniles and we’ve just got to do better.”
Wasson also addressed a public concern expressed often on social media in that the county funded full psychiatric services within the criminal justice system while lacking on the public service side.
“I can’t take all the money away from the criminal justice system and law enforcement and just give it to mental health treatment,” Wasson said. “Because unfortunately there’s going to be a period of time when I’m going to have to expend resources in both places. And I only have finite resources.”
The county will also implement the Frequent User Systems Engagement, or FUSE, project next year, aimed at minimizing the time frequent users spend in the emergency room and in the criminal justice system.
Both programs are fully funded in the county’s 2019 budget. The county board plans to approve a contract at its meeting on Tuesday.
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