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Kane County leaders hope to open mental health crisis unit in Aurora

The Beacon-News - 5/17/2019

May 17-- May 17--When someone is experiencing a mental health episode, local police have two options: take them to an emergency room or the county jail, mental health experts in Kane County said.

That could change if plans for a new crisis stabilization unit in Aurora become a reality.

Kane County State's Attorney Joe McMahon said several other areas in the country use crisis stabilization units, which allow people to stay for 23 hours and be evaluated for treatment. No such place exists in Kane County.

McMahon believes the center could be a huge asset for Kane County, helping decrease the jail population and increase police officers' productivity.

"I would rather be in a treatment center," said Rick Lathrop, a member of the Fox River Valley Initiative. "Both of those options (ER or jail) are more expensive and neither provide fully trained psychological or mental health help."

There is a significant gap in services, McMahon said during his monthly news conference this week. McMahon invited several area mental health experts to discuss existing services and holes as part of Mental Health Awareness month.

The unit would help bridge people to long-term care, experts said.

"The whole point of the crisis stabilization unit is this handoff so people receive good follow-up treatment," McCauley said.

Presence Mercy Medical Center in Aurora would like to convert an unused operating room into a crisis unit with the ability to evaluate eight people, with the option of later expanding to 32, said Adrienne McCauley, lead organizer at the DuPage United and Fox River Valley Initiative.

Experts said one hurdle holding up the conversion is the state's Medicaid reimbursement rate.

Without proper reimbursements, a Rockford unit has reduced its hours and a unit on Chicago'sWest Side has closed, McCauley said.

When someone is taken to a hospital for treatment, Medicaid is billed around $3,200 for the observation period, McMahon said. A crisis stabilization unit can instead provide more responsive care and, historically, the reimbursement rate was around $800. But the rate was reduced a few years ago to $56, he said.

"They turned off the lights and locked the door," Lathrop said of the Chicago location. "They can't afford to open the place without sustainable funding."

McMahon said he and others have met with Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who has pledged funding.

Buildout funding has been secured for the unit in Aurora, but the reimbursement issue needs to be fixed first, McCauley said.

"Even though we've had some positive meetings with the state about the Medicaid issue, there are still details to be ironed out. Health care providers are wary of making a huge investment and hiring people and then having to close up shop."

McCauley said they were promised existing locations could reopen by July 1.


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