Tough times for mental health services in McHenry County

Aug 3, 2012

In recent weeks, WNIJ has reported on cuts to mental health services in northern Illinois. The situation has especially been felt in McHenry County, which saw its main behavioral health provider close this summer, largely because of delayed state payments.

An estimated 6,000 people received treatment each year at the Family Service and Community Mental Health Center. 

Mike LeBlanc is a former client. It was five years ago when LeBlanc suffered a stroke, an event that opened the door to other serious health issues.

“I’ve had multiple traumatic brain injuries from falls because my balance is so poor” LeBlanc said.

Since then, LeBlanc has been on a path toward recovery. He says the treatment he received at Family Service removed a lot of obstacles. The 42-year-old Woodstock resident says his recovery has taken a different path since the center shut down in late June. He credits local officials, namely the McHenry County Mental Health Board, for stepping in and making sure other local agencies and providers could take in the center’s clients. 

But LeBlanc says while he’s fortunate to be getting treatment at another location, the Pioneer Center for Human Services, he says the level of service he’s getting isn’t quite the same.

“It’s just a struggle.  I go one day a week to Pioneer, versus the two or three that we were going to at Family Services" LeBlanc said.

LeBlanc says he’s not getting the right amount of mental stimulation he needs. He says there’s also the challenge of having to develop new relationships with people at Pioneer.

Julie Gale is another former Family Service client. In addition to being bi-polar, Gale suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder and panic anxiety. She says the center turned her life around. She says she’s lucky to be able to keep seeing her regular therapist through her private insurance. But she wonders what might happen if her illness becomes too difficult to manage.

“If I were to go into the hospital and then come out of the hospital, if I were to have an episode, I would not exactly know where to go for outpatient therapy.  It’s just a feeling of comfort when you know your services are all under one roof like they were at Family Services" Gale said.

Because Family Service took in many people who were uninsured, Gale worries those people will fall through the cracks.

It’s not just former clients trying to adjust in the wake of the closure.  Local providers are feeling more pressure.

For example, Families ETC, which provides support to families of children with behavioral challenges, says its waiting list has grown considerably.

Observers say there is a silver lining in McHenry County’s situation, because unlike most counties, it has a special taxpayer funded board that helps coordinate local mental health care.

Sandy Lewis is the board’s director. Following the closing of Family Service, she says they were able to redirect more than $1-million  in funding to areas keep some treatment options available.

“Some of that allowed the court services to hire staff directly from family services, so that mental health court staffing and the drug court staffing could continue” Lewis said.

Lewis says they were also able to reach agreements with area providers…to make it easier for them to expand access to care.  And Rosecrance of Rockford has set up an office in the Family Service building to help maintain services for former clients.

And while Lewis says they’ve been able to get a handle on the situation for now…they know that haven’t seen the worst of it yet.

“We believe that the number of people from Family Services seeking treatment will increase every month going forward” Lewis said.

Lewis says that’s because some clients didn’t need treatment at the time of the facility’s closure.  She says that’s sure to change when medication refills run out, and some patients have another crisis. 

Looking beyond the immediate transition, Lewis says a task force is studying the county’s safety net when it comes to behavioral health care…to see if what’s being done is working.

In the meantime, former client Mike LeBlanc is hopeful he can develop a strong relationship with his new provider.

“Once kind of the bugs are worked out…and they get the schedule of activities …and they kind of learn who we are and what our needs are…they’ll be able to provide it.  I’m hoping" LeBlan said.

In the coming weeks, WNIJ will take a closer look at the state’s plan to close Rockford’s Singer Mental Health Center this fall.  Our coverage will include efforts to save the facility versus what’s being done to prepare for the center’s closure.