Illinois lawmakers hear complaints about children staying in mental hospitals longer than needed

Illinois State Capitol in Springfield

SPRINGFIELD (Illinois News Network) – Illinois lawmakers heard sharp criticism from mental health providers for allowing at-risk youth to stay in mental health facilities longer than they should.

The Senate Human Services Committee invited several providers to talk this week about the issue of Illinois’ youth-in-care finding themselves in facilities beyond medical necessity, commonly called BMN.

In 2017, more than 300 youth-in-care had found themselves staying in these facilities longer than they should have. Doctors said it delays development and causes other behavioral issues.

Dr. Peter Nierman with Lakeshore Hospital said some of these kids would rather go to jail than stay in mental institutions and they know that’s what will happen if they attack an employee or another resident.

“They knew they could get out of jail quicker than they could get out of the hospital,” he said.

Many of the speakers told the committee that they needed more money from the state for more facilities, more psychologists and more programs for the state’s mentally ill.

Because so many state agencies are involved with providing mental health services, it’s difficult to quantify exactly how much the state spends on those services. The Kaiser Family Foundation estimated that Illinois spent $72 per capita on mental health in fiscal year 2013. That was 38th in the nation.

Illinois’ agencies are under multiple consent decrees requiring a level of spending in these areas after lawsuits decided they were being shortchanged.

Providers agreed that the Rauner administration should be credited with successfully attaining a Medicaid waiver to spend federal funds on mental health services.

Department of Child and Family Services Director Beverly Walker told lawmakers that the problem is systemic, but her department often is dealing with the after-effects of a flawed system.

“All of these things together, while they are a movement in the right direction, they are not a systemic solution yet,” she said.

The state has been trying to place these kids in facilities in other states but has been refused due to Illinois’  poor record of payment.