WOODSTOCK – The collapse of one of the county’s largest and oldest behavioral health agencies because of financial issues could be “the tip of the iceberg,” county officials warned.
The McHenry County Board and the Mental Health Board are creating a task force to examine what impact the closing of Family Service and Community Mental Health Center will have, as well as how to get its 6,000 clients access to help from other agencies. But another issue, one advocates are not eager to address, is what to do if – or when – other cash-strapped mental health agencies follow suit.
“We need to find out what risk is out there; we believe there’s a lot of risk,” said County Board Chairman Ken Koehler, R-Crystal Lake.
Koehler announced the task force’s creation at Tuesday’s board meeting, after Mental Health Board Executive Director Sandy Lewis spoke about Family Service’s closure effective June 30. Family Service was facing a backlog of late payments from the state of at least $850,000, and a deal to merge with North Central Behavioral Health Systems – the last chance to keep the group’s services available – fell through last month.
The task force will first examine the consequences of Family Service’s closing, such as increased arrests, incarcerations, expulsions and suicides, both from a humanitarian and a financial perspective, Koehler said. He said he hopes to have the group, which will include County Board and Mental Health Board officials, law enforcement, and medical and education representatives, convened by July 1.
Social service agencies have downsized and merged in the years that state aid payments for services rendered have come later and later. Pioneer Center for Human Services, the county’s largest social service agency, in past years has merged with McHenry County Youth Service Bureau, the Children’s Center for Autism, and McHenry County Public Action to Deliver Shelter.
But providers have warned that there is not much left for them to cut. Lewis told County Board members Tuesday that a number of social service agencies are down to less than one month’s cash reserve. The Mental Health Board lent Family Service more than $1.4 million to cover payroll and other expenses.
State funding issues make finding help for Family Service’s displaced clients a challenge – while some might welcome the extra clients, others might not be able to take on any more of them. Also, Lewis said that finding for-profit mental health providers who will accept Medicaid, which about half of Family Service’s clients are covered by, also is a challenge.
“We want to make an evaluation to see which of these agencies are so fragile that they can’t take any more business and try to make sure we can find the adequate substitution for taking care of them,” Koehler said.