The Association of Community Mental Health Authorities of Illinois (ACMHAI pronounced “ack-my”), established in 1972 is a partnership of organizations committed to the concept of community behavioral health. This commitment is demonstrated by a shared respect and concern for citizens of our communities who experience mental illness, emotional disturbances, substance abuse and developmental disabilities. What separates us from other communities in Illinois is that we not only talk-the-talk, we also walk-the-walk. We invest our community’s dollars in programs and services to address the behavioral health needs of our friends and neighbors.

The majority of our members are known as “708” boards governed by the Illinois Community Mental Health Act (Illinois Compiled Statutes, Chapter 405, Act 20, Section 0.1 et.seq.) and are accountable at the local level to the citizens of our communities. A portion of our membership is also comprised of “553” and “377” boards whose statutory authority derives from public health legislation or legislation specific to developmental disabilities respectively. As a rule, all of our local boards are appointed by our respective governmental units, and as such are tied to the electoral process. In short, our board members live and work in our community and demonstrate their commitment by volunteering to be responsible for the funding, planning and delivery of behavioral health services as defined by the Act.

Community mental health means the people of a community take responsibility for the design and organization of a local system of care. Our process is an open one with decisions made at public meetings open for everyone to see. On a continuous basis we are mandated to assess the needs of our communities in order to make the best decisions possible for our citizens. We invite real input from consumers and families to keep us on track and in touch with the very people who need the programs and services we fund. It is their needs that dictate the types and mix of services available. We are community-based, with the locus of decision making and management grounded at the community level.

Because we are community based we know our communities best and have the flexibility to respond to immediate needs. For example, if education or law enforcement personnel identify pressing issues in our community, ACMHAI partners have the power and authority to redirect existing capacity or allocate new resources to directly impact on the presenting problems. This could not happen at the state or network level, and is only possible in communities that have taken the responsibility upon themselves to fund, manage and organize components of a local system of care.

ACMHAI partners work closely with our local legislators to confirm and validate their efforts at the state level. We have a responsibility to provide briefings about the behavioral health needs of their constituents and how their decisions in Springfield will translate to the realities of our local communities. We also see ourselves as a resource to our legislators and are available to dialog about behavioral health services and offer advice concerning vision, policy and direction. ACMHAI partners advocate for our neighbors who experience mental illness, substance abuse and developmental disabilities.

In our individual communities we know our local service providers well and view them as key participants in conceptualizing our community-based system of care. We are respectful of their work and strongly consider their recommendations about service priorities, while at the same time recognizing that the goals of a community mental health authority are not always aligned with those of individual service providers. Our responsibility is broad and accountable to the entire community. In addition to service providers, ACMHAI partners understand the importance of natural support systems and other self-help entities. To the extent possible, we provide funding to maintain and expand natural support systems.

ACMHAI partners are invested in the concept of cultural competence and comprehend the need to assist providers in moving toward a culturally competent system of care. Providers must, for example assess the language needs of their communities to assure staff are fluent in any language or method of communication used by service recipients. Training for staff and board members about cultural awareness and competency must be available on a continuous cycle. Efforts to enrich the community’s cultural resource base are supported and encouraged by local mental health authorities and ACMHAI.

The Community Mental Health Act specifies our relationship with the Illinois Department of Human Services (i.e., the Office of Mental Health, Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse, Office of Developmental Disabilities). In this time of extreme fiscal austerity, planning and coordination between the state department and local mental health authorities is especially critical. ACMHAI partners have offered their knowledge and expertise in an effort to maximize funding, improve service access, build system capacity and increase accountability.

We believe the people of our communities deserve to receive services in the least restrictive, most normative environment that is clinically appropriate to meet their individual needs. To this end ACMHAI partners are invested in planning, funding coordinating and evaluating a comprehensive array of services to address a wide range of need.

ACMHAI partners are proud of the important role they play in the creation of local systems of behavioral health care. Our strategic planning process has focused on the need to expand the organization to carry out our statutory mandate and thereby better meet the needs of people in our home communities. ACMHAI is about the expansion of community mental health, local authority, and the local involvement of citizens in the planning, funding, operation and delivery of behavioral health services in Illinois.