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McLean County Health Department Administrator Camille Rodriguez, right, discusses questions that the health department and McLean County Board of Health members have for the Center for Human Services as board of health President Judy Buchanan, center, and other board of health members and health department staff listen on Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019.

BLOOMINGTON — The McLean County Board of Health wants Center for Human Services (CHS) to answer questions related to its decision to suspend accepting new clients into its psychiatric program before the board decides  that program's funding level for the balance of 2019.

"We have a lot of questions that need to be answered," board member Hannah Eisner said during Wednesday night's board of health meeting.

"These are taxpayer dollars they (CHS staff) are getting from the board of health and the taxpayers want accountability," board member Susan Schafer said.

Contacted by The Pantagraph following the meeting, CHS Executive Director Tom Barr said "We look forward to the opportunity to meet with them and address their questions."

On Dec. 3, Barr said CHS, effective immediately, had suspended accepting new clients into its psychiatric program because of declining support from the state and United Way of McLean County. The program, which serves people ages 12 and older with severe and persistent mental illness, prescribes medicine to low-income clients and works with them to access the medicine, Barr said.

The program had 752 clients who will continue to receive services, Barr said. He said CHS had spent $1.4 million of its reserves to keep the program going and couldn't keep spending at the same rate even though the agency had $3.6 million remaining.

The CHS decision caught county officials, law enforcement and school personnel off guard and began a series of discussions.

The board of health, which contributes about $700,000 in county taxpayers' money to CHS's psychiatric and crisis intervention programs, decided in December to extend the board's 2018 contract with CHS until the end of February.

"We anticipate funding decisions for the remainder of calendar year 2019 for the psychiatric program and crisis to be made by the board at its February (13) meeting," board of health President Judy Buchanan said Wednesday night.

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Before then, Buchanan, another board member and McLean County Health Department Administrator Camille Rodriguez hope to meet with Barr and CHS representatives to get answers.

Schafer asked how many people CHS is turning away, and how much more money CHS needs to begin to accept new clients again.

Dr. Alan Ginzburg, another board member, warned there is a shortage of psychiatrists.

"We're talking a group of five people (psychiatrists in Bloomington-Normal) for an expanding base" of patients, Ginzburg said. "All the money in the world can't buy you time."

Earlier in the meeting, County Administrator Bill Wasson and Trisha Malott, behavioral health coordinating council supervisor, discussed progress on county efforts to develop a FUSE (Frequent User Systems Engagement) program, a mental health triage center for crisis evaluation and telepsychiatry.

FUSE would provide intensive case management to individuals with behavioral health problems who are frequent users of emergency departments, public safety and homeless services. The program goal is to serve 10 people a year, a program manager should be chosen within 30 days and outreach will begin shortly thereafter, Wasson and Malott said.

A triage center should be up and running by the end of March, likely in a county building beside the FUSE program, they said.

Telepsychiatry should begin within 45 days, with services being provided by a single psychiatrist, Malott said.

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Contact Paul Swiech at (309) 820-3275. Follow him on Twitter: @pg_swiech

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