Better pay, increased opportunities for training, incentives and recruitment programs are steps Illinois can take to address behavioral healthcare workforce challenges, advocates said Friday.

Illinois Association for Behavioral Health CEO Jud DeLoss told members of the House and Senate’s mental health committees that the industry has seen worker burnout in part due to administrative burdens placed by payers and historic underfunding by the state.

“We’re not here today seeking extravagant profits or rate increases that are not necessary,” DeLoss said. “These are to provide livable wages to our workers that are on the front lines.”

Advocates urged passage of several pieces of legislation, including one that would create a working group to review policies and regulations, a plan allowing behavioral healthcare workers licensed in other states to practice in Illinois while their license is being approved and a proposal to create and fund a collaborative care pilot program.

There was also support for a proposal unveiled last week during Gov. JB Pritzker’s State of the State and Budget Address to reform how insurers handle network adequacy and prior authorization.

Kyle Hillman, director of legislative affairs for the Illinois chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, said the state should offer scholarships, create mentor programs and fund paid field placements and other supports for students in behavioral health.

Additionally, he called for diversifying the mental health workforce, which is critical to address the “nuanced needs” of Illinoisans.

“This dual approach is essential for fostering a more inclusive and effective mental healthcare system that’s capable of delivering culturally competent care across a broad spectrum of communities,” Hillman said.

Community Behavioral Healthcare Association of Illinois CEO Blanca Campos said they expect positive traction with Illinois’ implementation of the certified community behavioral health clinics model, which links mental health and behavioral health services, case management and other types of services together in a single site.

Along with providing better care for patients, she said analysis has found such centers receive federal funding that enables them to offer more competitive pay relative to other providers and industries in the area.

“It is considered the gold standard of providing behavioral healthcare,” Campos said.

Several panelists said they were dismayed that Gov. JB Pritzker’s proposed budget calls for a $45 million cut related to substance use prevention and recovery.

“At a time when we’re seeing opioid deaths and suicides, a cut of that dramatic amount is simply devastating,” DeLoss said. “And it is going to cause even further damage to the field.”