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040216-blm-loc-1mentalhealth

Luella Mahannah, a counselor at Integrity Counseling, has worked to bring mental health services to people who cannot afford them.

BLOOMINGTON — After Celeste Bradley retired from her job counseling students at Heartland Community College, she knew she wasn't ready for a rocking chair.

When she heard about Integrity Counseling and its mission to provide low or no-cost mental health services, Bradley signed up as one of six volunteers who meet with people who lack the financial resources to obtain services in the community.

"I loved the concept of providing counseling for what the client can afford," said Bradley, who spends two afternoons a week meeting with clients.

Luella Mahannah, counseling director for the center on South Morris Avenue, is pleased with the response she's received from counselors willing to support her vision of filling the gap in local mental health services.

Several barriers block clients from private and publicly-funded services, said Mahannah, who opened the center in 2014 after her retirement from a career in counseling.

"Some can't get in other places because of a waiting list or the insurance co-pay is too much. We've also had clients who are homeless or have been in jail," she said.

Mahannah also is part of "Closing the Gap," an initiative organized by National Alliance on Mental Illness Livingston/McLean Counties to host public forums on key behavioral health issues.

A critical shortage of psychiatrists in McLean County has left many people struggling to obtain the medication that helps control their illness, said Tosha Maaks, a NAMI peer support specialist.

"We're trying to figure out why there's so few psychiatrists and how we might entice them to come here," said Maaks.

The volunteer counselors may be asked to see more than the dozen or so clients they already see regularly as the impact of staff and service reductions at the McLean County Center for Human Services filter through the community.

CHS said recently that it will no longer accept new clients to its psychiatric program and three open positions on the mobile crisis team will not be filled because of state budget cuts.

CHS said its $6 million in reserves will be used for building repairs, information technology upgrades and unforeseen emergencies, and not for services the state has failed to cover.

McLean County Sheriff Jon Sandage is concerned the CHS cuts could mean more mentally ill people cycling through the jail where at least 20 percent of the inmates in the 225-bed facility on any given day are mentally ill.

"To me it's a matter of pay now or pay  later. I'd hate to see us lose the ground we've made when it comes to treating mental illness," said Sandage.

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Follow Edith Brady-Lunny on Twitter: @pg_blunny

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