As one of the largest nonprofit behavioral health care providers in Southern Illinois, Centerstone is at the forefront of providing services to children, teens and adults — more than 16,000 last year — who desperately need help. We provide counseling and medication to help those who are attempting to reclaim their lives from mental illness and addiction. We provide crisis services to people who are threatening suicide. We also offer services to adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Unfortunately, due to the state of Illinois budget crisis, much of these essential health care services are now threatened.
While our elected officials fail to agree on a spending plan, Illinois’ behavioral healthcare organizations struggle to provide vital services to their patients as well as compensate their employees. Deep cuts to mental health services have been proposed. Legislative gridlock threatens the life-saving work of behavioral health providers who have no assurance they will receive payment for services provided in good faith.
This crisis jeopardizes Centerstone’s ability to pay our staff and the businesses (many of them local businesses) with whom we work. The state owes Centerstone $3.9 million for services already provided. Our 675 employees depend on, and expect a paycheck from us for their work, but we can’t rely on the state of Illinois to provide the same for us.
We have not received funding for services that enable us to provide psychiatric care.
In Southern Illinois, these specialty physicians are in very short supply. Our physicians prescribe life-saving medicines to more than 5,700 people each year. Absent those funds, we are scrambling to determine who we can serve, and how we can manage this critical service.
State funds have been eliminated for people who do not have Medicaid or another health care safety net, further limiting individuals who already have very few health care options and leaving Centerstone to make heart-breaking decisions about who we can afford to treat with life-saving crisis and counseling services.
These cuts and budget indecisions have already had dire consequences. At this point, Centerstone has given notice of a reduction in force to 14 individuals, and may have to announce more if this crisis is not resolved soon. We are also considering closing facilities and reducing services, including our crisis facility which serves the region.
Unfortunately, once established infrastructure is destroyed, it can’t be easily rebuilt. We now face the very real possibility that even if the legislature doesn’t sanction the budget cuts and ultimately passes a budget, Illinois streets, jails and emergency departments will nonetheless become the front-line provider of mental health services for children, adults and families for years to come.
We cannot allow this to happen.
A person no more chooses to live with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or depression than they choose to live with diabetes or asthma. Think about that person in your life — that husband or wife, that child or grandparent, that cousin or friend, that neighbor or coworker — who will suffer, perhaps irreparably, if our state’s behavioral health care services are effectively dismantled because of indifference compounded by indecision.
The old adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is an apt one in behavioral health care. If we treat mental illness and substance abuse appropriately, we save significant costs in other areas. We reduce medical expenses overall, decrease hospitalization, lower our crime rate and lessen homelessness. We also create a healthier and more productive work force for Illinois.
We urge our lawmakers to resolve this crisis quickly. Contact the governor’s office or your state legislator today and demand that they quickly pass a budget with existing behavioral health care services intact. No one can afford to ignore the magnitude of this crisis any longer.
John G. Markley is CEO of Centerstone. Centerstone provides comprehensive behavioral health services in Madison, Jersey, Calhoun, and Greene Counties in Illinois’ Metro East region and in Franklin, Jackson and Williamson Counties in Southern Illinois.