Budget Victims: Mental Health, Substance Abuse Programs

Jul 7, 2015

Thousands of people get their mental health and substance abuse counseling through Centerstone in southern Illinois. But because state lawmakers and Gov. Bruce Rauner are still at odds over a budget, some of those people may soon be left without the care they need.

Centerstone CEO John Markley says the agency is going without hundreds of thousands of dollars in state funding, used to care for clients who are not eligible for Medicaid, Medicare, or Social Security - and who don’t have private health insurance.

If they can't be seen in these facilities, in terms of those services being supported by the state, I don't know where they would turn to. ~Centerstone CEO John Markley

“We don’t have margins here in terms of covering those costs for those types of service. We have not seen a raise in our rates in 20 years on the mental health/Medicaid side. Twenty years.”

Markley says much of the funding is used to help people who can’t wait for services – those who show up at emergency departments all over the region every day.

“Because of the nature of the service itself, it’s pretty critical that there be resources available when somebody doesn’t have resources there and is in a crisis.”

A crisis, Markley says, which can mean that the person is a danger to themselves or to others.

“If they can’t be seen in these facilities, in terms of those services being supported by the state, I don’t know where they would turn to.”

And without that help, Markley fears some people who need help to keep themselves and others out of harm’s way may fall through the cracks.

“If this situation isn’t solved quickly, that’s a risk that could be out there for people, yes.”

Heartland Regional Medical Center Emergency Department Director Amanda Throgmorton says resources are already tight – and without Centerstone, uninsured patients face a difficult road.

“Sometimes, even with having Centerstone available to do counseling, it can take days to find placement. So not having them available to those patients, I think it’s going to have a huge impact on the Emergency Departments by having those patients here for long periods of time.”

And while the money has dried up for now, Markley says they’re doing what they can to keep referrals and counseling going -- even for those who cannot pay.

“Obviously, if someone shows up at our door and is in crisis, we are going to serve them. But at this point, staffing so that our staff are available to go to the emergency rooms that we are called on 24/7, we just don’t have any resources to staff that anymore.”

Southern Illinois Healthcare Vice President for Community Affairs Woody Thorne says they’re working with Centerstone to keep the coverage going. He says without counselors and social workers available, patients in SIH hospitals and facilities aren’t getting the care they need.

“We’re not able to do those things that the state is able to do. But yet this is an important community need, and it’s important to our hospitals and to the hospitals surrounding the SIH facilities, so it’s important for us to step up and to continue to work as a partner with Centerstone to try to meet the need.”

Markley, Throgmorton, and Thorne say this budget crisis illustrates the need in this region for more doctors and counselors to treat mental health and substance abuse issues.

We're very limited in what we have, and now they're taking away the limited access we have. ~Heartland Regional Medical Center Emergency Department Director Amanda Throgmorton

Throgmorton says her ER can see nearly 100 patients a month who present with mental health or substance abuse issues. She says lawmakers and Governor Rauner need to think about the impacts of their political standoff.

“I don’t know that they realize how much southern Illinois struggles with having these services. Because we’re very limited in what we have, and now they’re taking away the limited access we have.”

And Markley says without a resolution to the crisis soon – there will be consequences for everyone.

“There are going to be many, many people – if this goes on very much longer – that we’re going to see are going to be affected in a very negative way, and it’s going to affect our communities in a very negative way.”

Markley says while the Affordable Care Act has lowered the number of clients who do not have any form of health coverage, there is still a sizeable group of people who fall in this uninsured category. He fears the ongoing stalemate in Springfield may only make current mental health and substance abuse shortages worse – particularly in southern Illinois.