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Pritzker signs bill to expand mental health workforce

Pritzker signs bill to expand mental health workforce

New law also offers employment incentives for people in recovery

By PETER HANCOCK
Capitol News Illinois
phancock@capitolnewsillinois.com

SPRINGFIELD – Gov. JB Pritzker signed a bill Friday aimed at expanding the state’s mental health workforce and improving access to mental and behavioral health services throughout the state.

Senate Bill 3617, an omnibus mental health bill, passed unanimously out of both chambers this spring. Among other things, it makes it easier for out-of-state providers to become licensed in Illinois and enables people whose licenses have lapsed in the past five years to be reinstated.

“As governor, as a father and as a person who grew up in a household impacted by addiction, mental health care has been an issue that is important to me,” Pritzker said at a bill signing ceremony in Chicago. “Personally, I've always said that we need to pull mental health out of the shadows of stigma in order to truly advance holistic health care. And it didn't take a pandemic to show us the extent of our mental health crisis. But it's clearer than ever.”

The new law also establishes a tax credit program for employers that hire individuals who voluntarily state that they are in a recovery program for mental illness or addiction.

It also authorizes the Department of Human Services to award grants or contracts to community clinics for training programs for those pursuing licenses as clinical social workers, clinical professional counselors and marriage and family therapists.

“We need a mental health care workforce that is robust enough to get people help when they need it, not after months on a waiting list,” Pritzker said. “By investing in behavioral health workers in training, we ensure that Illinoisans get the quality, comprehensive mental health care that they deserve, while diversifying our field of practitioners to be more representative of the communities they serve.”

David Jones, the state’s behavioral health officer within the Department of Human Services, noted that in 2019 a state task force estimated that by 2030 Illinois would have a shortage of more than 3,300 behavioral health treatment providers.

“When inadequate staff exists to serve people in behavioral health crises, pain and trauma are perpetuated, and less healing and recovery occurs,” he said. “Today, we are witnessing action to alleviate the pain of mental health and substance use disorders faced by so many.”

State Sen. Laura Fine, D-Glenview, who chairs the Senate Behavioral and Mental Health Committee and was a lead sponsor of the bill, said there are only 14 behavioral health care providers for every 10,000 residents of Illinois.

“It is very frustrating to hear that patients who are seeking inpatient treatment are denied care despite having empty beds, only because there's simply not enough providers available to offer them the quality and experience care that they deserved,” she said. “This law works to change that.”

Pritzker conceded that SB 3617 alone will not solve the health care workforce shortage in Illinois, but he pointed to other steps the administration has taken in recent years to relieve the shortage, including expanding scholarship opportunities for nursing students.

“We help schools that are graduating nurses to do that faster, making sure they're all qualified to do it, but making sure they can get through the process of getting licensed faster as they graduate,” he said. “So those are examples. There is much more to do. I don't want to suggest this is the only thing that has been done or that we will do.”

 

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government that is distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.

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