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McLean County Sheriff Jon Sandage looks over a video conferencing area visitors that is still under construction in the new addition to the McLean County Jail Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018. The new facility improves visitation opportunities for families who have a loved one in the jail.

BLOOMINGTON — County officials were starting work Tuesday on a plan to fill a major gap in mental health services created by the McLean County Center for Human Services' decision to halt new referrals to its psychiatric program.

"It's never a good thing when you lose options for services," said Sheriff Jon Sandage, adding he and his staff will work with county administrators to find options for inmates who need psychiatric care after their release from jail.

CHS announced on Monday that it was suspending new admissions for people who need psychiatric care due to a lack of state and United Way funding.

Data collected for the McLean County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council indicates about 30 percent of the jail's 225-inmate population needs mental health services. 

County Administrator Bill Wasson said the CHS decision "can impact referrals for services for the program funded in part by the health department and no new clients will be referred from the problem-solving courts or our detention and correctional facilities."

The United Way, once a major source of financial support for social services agencies, has seen dramatic reductions in its income over the past three years. Local campaigns that once raised $4 million now barely break the $1 million mark. United Way also recently announced a shift away from its broad-based approach to funding community needs to targeting agencies that address youth and family issues.

CHS Executive Director Tom Barr said CHS has used $1.4 million in reserves to support the psychiatric program, but that level of support cannot continue. The agency still has $3.6 in reserves, he said.

The county will be looking at both interim and long-term solutions to the shortage of psychiatric care, said Wasson. 

"It's not as simple as filling one hole because there's a larger need for services," he said.

All options are on the table, said Wasson, and could include using some of the sales tax money collected from Bloomington and Normal and earmarked for community mental health. 

"We're going to look at all opportunities. We know (CHS) doesn't have the capacity to fill the need. This is a challenging area. We all know it's difficult to expand services," said Wasson.

McLean County Board Chairman John McIntyre said the psychiatric cuts "definitely impact our court programs," agreeing the county will consider multiple providers and funding sources, including grants, in the effort to maintain services.

The county's mental health and drug courts rely on CHS to provide services for participants in the specialized probation programs. Defendants whose criminal conduct is tied to a mental illness or substance abuse issue receive help with treatment as well as employment and other needs that often contribute to recidivism.

It is not uncommon for specialty court participants to have co-occurring substance abuse and mental health issues. Chestnut Health Systems provides substance abuse services to the court programs.

Barr said Monday the agency would continue to accept referrals for crisis, counseling, school outreach, recovery and case management programs.  

The psychiatric program provides services to people 12 and older with severe mental illness, including assistance with medication. The 752 current clients will continue to receiver services but that number will continue to decrease if new funding is not available, said Barr.

Contact Edith Brady-Lunny at (309) 820-3276. Follow her on Twitter: @pg_blunny


McLean County Courts Reporter

McLean County courts reporter for The Pantagraph.

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