Illinois lawmakers hope to address shortage of mental and behavioral health care workers

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – The mental and behavioral health profession had a shortage of workers well before the COVID-19 pandemic started. Less licensed and certified staff led to a significant drop in services when people needed help the most. Illinois lawmakers hope to find a solution quickly.

Industry leaders told lawmakers employees are dealing with limited funding and burnout. Although, they’re also afraid another issue is coming soon.

The Illinois Department of Human Services recently saw a jump in the number of vaccinated staff in facilities. However, DHS Secretary Grace Hou said hope can only get you so far. She explained the department is preparing to bring new people in to address an expected shortage caused by unvaccinated workers.

“Our staff in our psych hospitals have navigated have navigated through the worst of the pandemic,” Hou said. “And we will continue to do this in the coming weeks and months as other challenges come before us. We are in close contact with IEMA as well as CMS to continue to shore up staffing resources in our hospitals and also to speed up hiring.”

Second-worst shortage in the country for mental health workers

Meanwhile, the Illinois Association for Behavioral Health says Illinois has the second-worst shortage in the country for mental health workers. As a result, they’re asking for $120 million from state and federal funding allocated to DHS for mental health services.

“We’re asking for action to be taken prior to December 1 of this year,” said IABH CEO Jud DeLoss. “We know that this is a very quick timeline. But we don’t believe that many providers will survive until next year without that funding being made available.”

Other leaders in mental and behavioral health told lawmakers this is the largest pandemic outside of COVID-19. They argue the state must address the lack of workers and horrible pay as soon as possible to help patients.

One of the advocates said you could walk out of their building right now and have better wages as a new employee at Target or Amazon.

Many feel the mental and behavioral health care structure in Illinois hasn’t received proper support for decades. Some industry leaders believe that left providers unprepared for this pandemic.

Advocates: State must help improve staffing levels

Advocates told lawmakers Friday that they can’t continue to provide timely care without improving staffing levels. Lawmakers agree that providers need to create a work environment where young people want to stay after college.

The Gateway Foundation stressed that providers who prioritize mission over money need direct support from the state to rebuild the workforce. Sen. Sara Feigenholtz (D-Chicago) said Illinois is at a point of no return.

“I hope that people are listening, I hope the governor’s office is listening,” Feigenholtz said. “And I hope that this is the year that we do something about it across the board of all of our social service agencies.”

Providers also noted that the DHS Division of Substance Use Prevention and Recovery isn’t paying providers right now. DeLoss explained an accounting software error caused that problem. He hopes the department can fix that issue quickly.

Others said people cannot wait for these services, and lawmakers need to act soon to ensure the workforce is ready to help them.

Sen. Laura Fine (D-Glenview) thanked DHS officials and industry leaders for helping lawmakers understand the situation.

“Discussion is great,” Fine said. “Now we need action so we can find solutions.”

The post Illinois lawmakers hope to address shortage of mental and behavioral health care workers appeared first on WEEK.

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October 22, 2021 at 06:51PM

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