Health News Illinois:

Advocates lay out challenges facing behavioral health workforce

Low reimbursement rates and a heavy administrative burden are among the challenges facing the Illinois behavioral workforce, making it more difficult for patients to find care, advocates and providers told lawmakers Thursday.

Illinois Behavioral Health Workforce Center CEO Dr. Kari Wolf told members of the House and Senate’s mental health committees that patients often wait months to see a therapist or a psychiatrist.

“Could you imagine waiting six months if you had just been diagnosed with cancer and waiting six months to receive care for that?” she asked lawmakers.

From 2017 to 2019, nearly half of the 1.8 million Illinois adults who experienced a mental health illness did not receive any treatment, according to Sonya Leathers, director of Illinois Behavioral Health Workforce Center activities at the University of Illinois Chicago.

Trends are similar for the 145,000 Illinois youth who experienced a major depressive episode during that period.

“They’re cascading negative effects on multiple areas of their lives like schoolwork, employment, relationships and parenting,” Leathers said.

Wolf said primary care doctors can get 13 to 20 percent higher reimbursement from insurance companies compared to psychiatrists for the same care.

That’s led to a system of care where a large percentage of providers operate on a cash basis and do not accept insurance.

Wolf called for higher rates, as well as changes to the state’s parity law to make it easier for mental health providers to get reimbursed by insurance companies.

“Our goal is to make Illinois the national leader by creating a systemic approach to developing the behavioral health workforce,” Wolf said.

Susan Doig, CEO of Trilogy Behavioral Health, said they struggle with the “churn” that comes with a high-stress job. Medicaid documentation makes it worse.

“One of the biggest complaints that we hear from our employees is, ‘I’m here to help my clients, not to write a 40-page assessment every six months,’” Doig said. “We’ve worked really hard over the past year to try to set up a streamlined system so that our employee experience is more about the mission and less about getting paid.”

Meanwhile, Kelly Epperson, chief of staff at Rosecrance Health Network, said rate increases passed by lawmakers during recent legislative sessions have started to pay dividends.

Those increases equated to about $10 million for Rosecrance, which Epperson said allowed them to raise staff salaries by 17 percent.

“The results of those increases and our wage investments speak for themselves,” she said. “Turnover is down, vacancies are down, staff satisfaction is up and retention is up.”

“In my humble opinion, the behavioral healthcare workforce shortage is truly one of the biggest issues facing the state of Illinois,” said House Chair Lindsey LaPointe, D-Chicago.

A second hearing is scheduled for next month, which LaPointe said will focus on potential solutions.

KFF Health News:

988-Hotline Counselors Air Concerns: More Training Needed to Juggle a Mix of Calls

In the year and a half since its launch, 988 — the country’s easy-to-remember, three-digit suicide and crisis hotline — has received about 8.1 million calls, texts, and chats. While much attention has been focused on who is reaching out and whether the shortened number has accomplished its goal of making services more accessible to people in emotional distress, curiosity is growing about the people taking those calls.

An estimated 10,000 to 11,000 counselors work at more than 200 call centers nationwide, fielding calls from people experiencing anxiety, depression, or suicidal thoughts.

newly released report, based on responses from 47 crisis counselors, explored variations in their training and work experiences. The survey “is not large enough to support conclusions” about all 988 staffers, said Dan Fichter, the report’s author and a former program manager for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s 988 team. Still, the first-of-its-kind survey — published by CrisisCrowd, a new noncommercial project focused on raising the voices of 988’s workforce — surfaced interesting snapshots.

For instance, counselors who responded noted wide variations in training, from four days or less to two weeks.

Read more, here.

PBS News Hour:

Student-led network helps address shortage of mental health professionals in schools

Mental health among the nation’s student population has been a growing concern, especially due to the pandemic. From PBS Wisconsin, Steven Potter reports on how peer support, school staff and psychology researchers are trying to keep up with the growing rate of mental health issues among students. It’s part of our series, Early Warnings: America’s Youth Mental Health Crisis.

Read more, here.