BLOOMINGTON — Erika Harold is looking for local input in her agenda as candidate for Illinois attorney general.

"Criminal justice reform and stemming the opioid epidemic (are) key priorities for me," she said Tuesday, "and so what I wanted to hear today are some of the ideas that the people who work within these fields have for addressing the mental health issues that are part of the criminal justice system, and also dealing with some of the substance abuse issues."

Harold, the Republican nominee to succeed Democratic AG Lisa Madigan, discussed those issues and more with McLean County health and law enforcement leaders during a visit to Bloomington's Chestnut Health Systems.

Officials with Advocate Health Care, Chestnut, OSF HealthCare, the county and other organizations shared the success McLean County has had in mental health and drug treatment and what hurdles officials still face.

"We're initiating programs to better utilize the crisis stabilization unit here at Chestnut, to try to divert individuals ... instead of into the criminal justice system or into the emergency (room)," said McLean County Administrator Bill Wasson. "It's a win-win for the community if we can ... increase our support systems within the community, especially for those frequent utilizers."

McLean County Sheriff Jon Sandage said an expansion to the county's jail still under construction should help those who do enter the criminal justice system get treatment.

Officials around the room told Harold they hope she can lobby legislators to improve Medicaid reimbursements and change the state's mental health code, which "does not allow us sometimes to assist patients in need because of all the regulations," said Renee Donaldson, Advocate's director of behavioral health, including guidelines for patient information sharing.

Officials said housing, especially for those with violent histories, and a broader stigma about mental health also are roadblocks to getting residents the treatment they need.

Joan Hartman, Chesnut's vice president of behavioral health, said she'd like Illinois to be a "trauma-informed state," a designation Wisconsin passed into law that shows support for those who have suffered emotional trauma and directs providers to keep it in mind during treatment.

Sandage also told Harold, a Champaign attorney, he opposes legalizing marijuana, part of Democratic governor nominee J.B. Pritzker's platform. State Sen. Jason Barickman, a Bloomington Republican, has also spoken in favor of legalization.

Harold's opposition includes state Sen. Kwame Raoul of Chicago, the Democratic nominee who was leading Harold by nine points in a recent poll, and Libertarian nominee Bubba Harsy.

Contact Derek Beigh at (309) 820-3234. Follow him on Twitter: @pg_beigh


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