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Stretched Thinner: Is There Blood On Governor And Lawmaker Hands

Tazwood Center For Wellness

Editors Note: During our interview series Stretched Thin, we reported on the impact of the state budget impasse on local social service agencies   That was in spring of 2016. There's still no budget. In our new series Stretched Thinner, we check back in with those social social service agencies.

An Administrator at the Tazwood Center For Wellness in the Peoria area said the number of people suffering from mental illness is overwhelming healthcare providers across the state.

Tazwood Chief Financial Officer Ann Campen said emergency rooms are facing a rush of people  with symptoms of mental illness, up 30% in the last 18 months.

"It was about 18 months ago that mental health was cut and there was no budget. Our cash flow is depleting. I thought this has to be an outcome. We're being asked to help out, but we do not have the ability," said Campen.

Sometimes mental health patients aren't getting timely help. Campen said patients should be seen quickly and often to make sure they are stable. But, financial and staff pressure has increased caseloads and forced providers to lengthen times between appointments so they can turn to people with critical needs. Campen said healthcare workers made the best clinical decisions they can, but sometimes that is not enough. One agency made a difficult choice to put a young heroin or opiod addict on a waiting list.

"One week later after the phone call was made and he was put on the wait list he overdosed and died. His mother called to remove him from the wait list. These are the stories. These are the things that human service providers are now dealing with," said Campen.

Tazwood has continued to offer psychiatric services, even though the state no longer pays for them. It still takes Medicaid, though reimbursement is only a third of the cost. Campen said one institution in Bloomington Normal now refuses care for psychiatric patients on Medicaid because it can't afford to eat the loss. Campen said Tazwood makes sure that privately insured patients are able to pay their deductibles up front, because the agency can't afford to lose more money. Tazwood is losing up to 30,000 dollars a month on psychiatric services and has spent more than half a million dollars in reserves in the last year.

The center is looking for partnerships to survive. Campen said there are multiple options for affiliations such as a local doctor's office or with another larger health care provider.

"How do we continue keeping our doors open and providing an essential service that cannot go away in our community. You have to look at other partners. Who can you help, who can help you to continue providing services?," said Campen.

Campen said under the Affordable Care Act, Hospitals and other providers are also moving to a reimbursement for results funding model. She said that may create an incentive for institutions to offer a wider cross section of services that will improve outcomes.

Even simply finding workers is becoming difficult. Tazwood has had significant attrition since the state budget deadlock began.  Campen said she has never before seen a situation where no one is applying for therapist positions. But, Campen said she understands why someone with a Master's degree wouldn't want to work at a facility lacking state funding.

"There is no job security. There are no benefits. We have all cut benefits. We haven't given raises in over seven years. There are no pensions. What do we have to attract those people to come in here and serve clients that need help," said Campen.

Campen said other agencies have been forced to cut back or lay off staff. Some have even closed their doors completely.

WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.