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State faces shortage of mental health workers, advocates say

State Government

By Kyla Asbury | Dec 17, 2018

Illinois capitol (1000)
Illinois State Capitol | By Agriculture at English Wikipedia - Original uploader was Agriculture at en.wikipediaTransferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by Druffeler using CommonsHelper., CC BY-SA 3.0,

Advocates for behavioral health testified at a joint committee hearing with the Senate Higher Education and Human Services committees on Dec. 10 regarding the shortage of behavioral health workers in the state.

Several advocates mentioned that Illinois has the sixth-largest shortage of behavioral health care workers in the nation.

Heather O'Donnell, the senior vice president of advocacy and public policy with Thresholds, said there are not enough mental health care professionals in the state.

"It’s an emphatic 'no,'" O'Donnell said at the hearing. "We need a long-term strategy to address this. Legislation is one piece of the strategy."

Sara Howe, the CEO of Illinois Association of Behavioral Health, said mental health care workers are leaving Illinois.

"Other states have taken our mental health workforce," Howe said. "They’ve left the state and we need to get them back."

Howe said that budgets are a reflection of priorities. Many of the panelists touched on the low rate of pay for mental health workers in the state. Some also mentioned needing better substance-abuse programs.

"Ninety percent of court-involved clients have some sort of substance-abuse and mental health issue," Tracy Burke-Carriere, the supervisor of juvenile probation in the 13th Judicial Circuit, said. "Failure to fund these types of programs [means] we all pay the price."

Kyle Hillman, the director of legislative affairs and meetings management with the National Association for Social Workers, said social workers are leaving Illinois.

"They're not staying in this state or they’re leaving the field entirely," Hillman said. "When they leave the clinical field, they don’t tend to come back to that field. We’ve lost so many good clinicians."

State Sen. Julie Morrison (D-Deerfield) applauded the panel members for their strategies to fix the problems.

"You have given us a lot of stuff to go back and discuss," Morrison said. "It’s very easy for us to say there's a shortage, but you came back with specific fixes."

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