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Community makes plea for better addiction services at Dixon hearing

DIXON – A lack of financing, too few providers and care that takes too long to get – those are the main roadblocks to adequate treatment for substance abuse and mental illness, local leaders and community members told visiting legislators Monday.

The Illinois House Mental Illness Committee’s Substance Abuse subcommittee held a hearing at the Old Lee County Courthouse. State Reps. Tom Demmer, R-Dixon; Lou Lang, D-Skokie; and Steven Andersson, R-Geneva, came to gather input from providers and consumers.

Patrick Phelan, CEO of Sinnissippi Centers, talked about the lack of psychiatrists and other mental health providers in general, and specifically in rural areas.

Lang mentioned programs he’s heard of where the state would pay for schooling for providers who promise to work in rural areas for a number of years after they get their degree, as a possible solution to that problem.

Mary Ann Abate, vice president of public policy for Rosecrance treatment center in Rockford, talked about the success of its triage center – before the state cut its funding in 2015.

The center has a behavioral health emergency room. After assessment, people can stay up to 14 days if treatment is needed. It used to be open 24 hours, but because of lack of funding both its hours and services have been cut back, she said.

Sauk Area National Alliance on Mental Illness President Mary Brokaw shared the story of her adult son, Ben, who is seeking treatment for schizophrenia, and her struggles to contact state officials for answers.

Laura Santos of Dixon shared the story of her daughter, Kelsey J. Beck, 25, of Dixon, who died in 2015 of a heroin overdose. In the 5 months before her death, the Lee County Public Defender’s office kept telling her that Beck would be part of the new mental health court and they were just waiting for a bed at a treatment center – but that never came.

“We as a society have failed,” Andersson said, apologizing to Santos.

Almost every panel member who spoke mentioned how detrimental cutting Medicaid funding would be, because most patients who use those providers would not be able to afford treatment without it.

Lee County Heath Department Administrator and PRISM of Lee County Chairwoman Cathy Ferguson-Allen talked about all the initiatives that have been started in the area, giving a lot of credit to Dixon Police Chief Danny Langloss, who provided a summary of the Safe Passage and Crisis Prevention Team programs that local law enforcement started and that are spreading throughout the state.

Safe Passage allows those addicted to opioids to turn themselves in to police for treatment, without fear of charges. Langloss said it has helped 170 people since it launched in September 2015.

The Crisis Prevention Team coordinates efforts with local health officials to flag those with severe mental illnesses who may be showing signs of distress, to get them help and keep them out of the court system. It has served more than 15 people since it was started in December.

Those programs, in fact, were a major reason the legislative committee chose Dixon for its first public hearing.

“I thought the hearing went great,” Langloss said. “It was good to see such a diverse group of professionals coming together and really sharing the same message.”

Demmer heard nothing but good things from the audience, members of which were “impressed and motivated by the great programs that we have in place locally,” he said.

He said he is excited to work on the these challenges and to employ some of the practices and advice the committee heard Monday.

“I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to gather information and identify ways the Legislature can better support a great mental health system in Illinois,” Demmer said.

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