Last week marked the 16th annual town hall meeting in Skokie on mental health care, a gathering sponsored by Turning Point Behavioral Health Care Center, which is a nonprofit outpatient provider serving Skokie, Morton Grove, Niles, Lincolnwood and Evanston.
For the first time, organizers said, the main auditorium in the Skokie Public Library was filled and an overflow crowd watched the Feb. 10 event by television in an adjacent room. Organizers said 230 people — mostly those who work in the health care field and community leaders — attended, more than double the count from last year.
“Each year at our town hall meeting, we welcome our community to this important discussion about mental health services and the political and economic factors that impact us all,” said Point CEO Ann Fisher Raney.
During the last few years, panelists have painted an especially bleak picture as they say critical funding for mental health services have been jeopardized by fiscal uncertainty and state and federal political tumult.
Turning Point CFO Marsha Hahn, who moderated the town hall, said that Turning Point had to decrease psychiatric services because of grants that failed to come through. Her comments came after it was mentioned that Lake County has a wait list of two to eight months for psychiatric services, depending on the site.
State Rep. Laura Fine, D-Glenview, said she serves as vice chair of the first mental health committee created in the Illinois House and promised to address this issue.
“We need to help our providers,” Fine said. “What’s very frightening to me about the pressures we’re putting on our not-for-profits is that we’re adding one more job to the list of things to do…We’re saying, ‘please perform these services but we’re going to use the money to pay something else right now and maybe we’ll get to you later.’ And that’s not fair.”
State Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie, called Springfield “a mess,” but he said he and state Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, D-Chicago, will oversee a project that focuses on mental health.
“(We) are about to undertake an entire look at the mental health system in the state of Illinois,” Lang said. “We are going to dismantle piece by piece and bolt by bolt and take a very long time to do it, but when we’re finished we’re going to have a better and more supportive health system in the state of Illinois.”
Leslie Combs, district director for U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-9th District, said the congresswoman is committed to trying to protect the Affordable Care Act, which the president and other Republicans have said they want to repeal.
“Before the ACA was passed,” Combs said, “people died because they didn’t have insurance and that’s what will happen here.”
Combs acknowledged that there are elements of the act that need fixing, but, she said, the law should not be taken away.
“Mental health service costs could grow exponentially,” she said. “It would take away access to preventative treatment and create barriers for access for those most vulnerable who are also, as we know, disproportionately effected by mental health illness and substance abuse issues.”
Gov. Bruce Rauner was invited to the town hall meeting, organizers said, but he did not appear.
Some in the audience raised concerns that veterans with green cards are being deported after arrests related to mental health issues.
Combs said Schakowsky supports federal laws that prevent those who fought for this country from being deported.
“As a nation, we should be protecting those who we made promises to and who protected us and put their lives on the line,” added Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin, D-13th District. “I think the thing to do is to just keep talking about it…You have to keep reminding us at every place where there’s a discussion that there is this group of people who have a unique bond to this country because of their service.”