Stretched Thin: Budget Standoff Dismantling Mental Health System | WGLT

Stretched Thin: Budget Standoff Dismantling Mental Health System

May 3, 2016

Credit Creative Commons

Editors Note:  Stretched Thin is an ongoing series of interviews with those managing social service agencies through an unprecedented state budget stalemate. 

After ten months without payment on signed state contracts, many social service agencies in Illinois have gone under. Others are scraping the bottom of their reserves. Some have taken out loans. Others are having difficulty because banks don't view the state as a good credit risk and doubt the agencies will be paid.

A leader of a mental health agency serving Woodford, Logan, and Tazewell Counties said 86 percent of Illinois community mental health centers have reduced or eliminated psychiatric services because of the budget standoff over Governor Rauner's turnaround agenda. And Ann Campen of the Tazwood Center for Wellness said it may not be possible to reconstruct services even if the budget is resolved because there were already shortages of people with certain skills.

"These psychiatrists are going to other states. How, we're going to get them back, I don't know. In a shortage, it's very very difficult to hire a psychiatrist, and psychiatric nurses as well," said Campen

Campen said the Tazwood Center for Wellness is losing 30,000 dollars a month by continuing to serve existing mental health patients.

Campen said the state cancelation of a different 700,000 dollar contract means they can't treat most new mental health patients, such as a young man who asked her for help with his paperwork one day.

"He was having visions of slaughtering his terminally ill father. Gone are those days that I can serve anybody showing those type of symptoms. And the first question I had to ask this young man, I had to say, do you have Medicaid?," said Campen

Campen said the limits on who they can serve have forced more than a hundred people to go to the emergency room for mental health help at ten times the cost that Tazwood used to deliver services.

Campen said many people will end up hanging around in public or going to jails or nursing homes.

"It's scary when you think about people with a serious mental illness. A lot of them have suicidal or homicidal ideations. that can create a lot of uncertainty. It can create definitely an unstable situation in our neighborhoods," said Campen.