As the Democrat-controlled Illinois legislature and Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner gear up to tackle the state's fiscal problems, including a multi-billion budget deficit, mental health advocates are warning against further cuts to community-based services.
"Community mental health services have been cut to the core, and we're seeing a lot of the fallout," said Heather O'Donnell, vice president of public policy and advocacy for Chicago-based Thresholds, a recovery service provider for people with mental illness in Illinois.
Among other issues, O'Donnell noted that the Cook County Jail has about 2,000 inmates with some form of mental illness. And 22,000 people with mental illness in the state are living in nursing homes even though they "don't need that level of care." These people, she explained, would likely be homeless if they were not living in such facilities due to the lack of housing and other supports for them to live independently.
"We just need to make sure that we preserve every dollar, because we don't have anything else in the community mental health system that we can cut without costing the state far more than the cuts," O'Donnell stressed.