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Local legislators tout efforts to help those facing mental health issues

Tuesday, February 19, 2019
Pioneer Press
by Genevieve Bookwalter

Local legislators tout efforts to help those facing mental health issues
Turning Point Town Hall

Genevieve Bookwalter/Pioneer Press

Legislators representing the near north suburbs gathered for a town hall to talk about how political and economic factors impact local mental health services on Feb. 15, 2019, at Skokie Public Library.

Legislators representing the near north suburbs gathered for a town hall to talk about how political and economic factors impact local mental health services on Feb. 15, 2019, at Skokie Public Library. (Genevieve Bookwalter/Pioneer Press)

Citing a new Democratic governor and a new Democratic majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, elected officials around Skokie, Evanston and the near north suburbs say they’re optimistic that treatment and access will improve for those who need mental health care.

The comments came at an annual town hall meeting Feb. 15 hosted by Turning Turning Point Behavioral Health Care Center, a nonprofit, outpatient mental health care center in Skokie that serves children, adults and families. The meeting was held at Skokie Public Library.

“There will be no more votes to end the Affordable Care Act. This is a good thing,” said Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Evanston.

In addition, Schakowsky said, the 21st Century Cures Act, passed Dec. 31, 2016, promised $1 billion to help fight opioid addiction in the United States.

“We are going to ramp up” attention on mental health, Schakowsky said.

Schakowsky was one of a handful of panelists who spoke at the town hall. The focus of the meeting was to discuss the impact of the current political and economic climate on residents’ access to mental health services.

State Sen. Laura Fine touted the state’s recent decision to allow opioid patients to instead be prescribed medical marijuana to treat pain. Fine’s 9th District includes Wilmette, Winnetka, Evanston Glenview, and parts of Skokie, Northbrook and Morton Grove.

“This is one tool in the toolbox,” Fine said, to “start chipping away at opioid addiction.”

Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin said federal laws and the Affordable Care Act have forced Cook County to include mental health care as part of its public health services.

But the sudden demand to provide services has led to another challenge.

“We are scrambling to expand staffing,” Suffredin said.

New state Sen. Ram Villivalam shared the same concern at the state level.

“If we don’t have the workforce to provide these services,” we have a problem, he said. Villivalam represents the state’s 8th District, which includes parts of Morton Grove, Skokie, Niles and Lincolnwood.

Jane Grubser, who oversees all jail programming for the Cook County Department of Corrections, said she too is seeing increased demand for mental health services in Cook County’s inmate population. Of the more than 5,700 people in custody, the percentage of those with mental health issues has stayed the same or grown. She expects that trend to continue.

While no one had specific answers to meet the growing need for providers, Schakowsky said federal legislation introduced Jan. 30 should help ease the demand. Schakowsky co-sponsored the Medicare Mental Health Access Act, which she said would define psychologists as physicians and thus allow them to see Medicare patients independently and without the physician oversight, as is now required.

If passed, the bill would help “make sure a whole range of providers are reimbursed for what they do,” Schakowsky said.

gbookwalter@chicagotribune.com
Twitter @GenevieveBook



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