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Leyden group warns Rauner cuts could hurt mentally ill

http://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/franklin-park/news/ct-fhj-lfs-tl-0430-20150428-story.html

By Mark Lawton

Pioneer Press

About five years ago, Venessa Fitzsimmons, 65, of Franklin Park, lost control.

"I attacked my manager because he was taking things out of my cab," Fitzsimmons said. "I went berserk. He was 6'5" and I'm 5'6." I was going to throttle him but I couldn't reach his throat."

Her boss called the police, who in turn called the Fire Department, who took her to Chicago-Read Mental Health Center after she threatened suicide. Fitzsimmons, who is bipolar and deals with depression, came to Leyden Family Services in January 2009. She credits the Franklin Park social service agency with saving her life.

"They saved me from being homeless when I was evicted," she said. "I had a wonderful therapist who worked with me day and night. She helped me win my social security fight, helped me get into my own apartment."

The services Fitzsimmons received could be reduced if Gov. Bruce Rauner has his way. In an effort to reduce a $7.4 billion shortfall in the state budget, Rauner has proposed cuts in the state's human services budget that could impact clients' ability to function or, said Fitzsimmons, just to survive.

Among Rauner's proposed cuts is a $129,014 supplemental grant used by Leyden Family Services to employ a psychiatrist.

"If the psychiatrist gets cut, some people will slip off and fall into the cracks," Fitzsimmons said. "These are people who will end up killing themselves."

Besides spoken therapy, the staff psychiatrist can evaluate clients and prescribe them anti-psychotic or other medications. If the staff psychiatrist goes, there aren't any good options for the clients in the west suburbs, said CEO Donna Santoro. They could go to the distant and very busy Cook County Hospital or they could try to find a psychiatrist who would accept the state's low Medicaid reimbursement rates, which the Kaiser Family Foundation cited as being among the worst in the U.S. as recently as 2012.

Patricia Ann Miller, 62, of Franklin Park, used to work as a traffic aide in Chicago, writing tickets. After getting hit by a car, she went from hospital to nursing home and nearly faced homelessness. In 2009, she connected with Leyden Family Services. The agency got her housing and arranged for medication to control her bipolar disorder. She also is taking advantage of other services including anger management, coping skills and talking to a counselor.

"If they do make cuts, I don't know where I would go," Miller said. "There are a lot of people who depend on Leyden [Family Services] to get by."

For people without health insurance — and even with the Affordable Care Act, there are some without insurance — the agency gets $42,000 a year from the state to pay for mental health services. That money helps around 50 to 70 people and is specifically used for psychiatric evaluation and developing a treatment plan, said Bruce Sewick, manager of adult mental health.

Adam Eakley, 32, of Franklin Park, has mild autism. He's twice been in jail and recently admitted to alcoholism. For the latter, he's been attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings at least four times a week. If he doesn't show progress, he can go into the emergency residential detoxification program Leyden Family Services operates in Hoffman Estates.

Among Rauner's proposed cuts is 20 percent or about $220,000 for the detoxification program. That cut, if approved by the General Assembly, would mean 60 fewer adults could use the 30-day program, said Connie Tischauser, program manager.

"Those people will clearly go to an emergency room," Tischauser said.

And there's the rub. Thirty days in the residential detox program costs about $6,000. A two-day visit through an emergency room costs about the same, said Tischauser.

"[The emergency room] keeps them safe but they're not treated for the problem," Tischauser said.

Asked about budget costs actually costing the state more, Rauner spokeswoman Catherine Kelly responded by email.

"Years of fiscal mismanagement and insider dealing have put the state $7 billion in the red, and without structural reform, difficult choices must be made to balance the budget," she wrote. "Many people served by the services being discontinued are now covered by the expansion of Medicaid and coverage of mental health under the Affordable Care Act."

If Rauner's proposed cuts were a one-time effort, perhaps the Leyden Family Services could figure a way to compensate. But these proposed cuts for 2016 come on top of cuts already made in fiscal 2015. Those include $24,750 for addiction treatment — "That money has already been spent," said CEO Donna Santoro — and $46,000 for gambling addiction treatment, which affects 142 people.

"Friday, April 3 — Good Friday — I got an email that stated the Department of Human Services is suspending portions of the grant," said Santoro. "They told me I could not bill anything past 5 p.m. that day."

Leyden Family Services chose to keep gambling addiction staff on for another two weeks so they could contact clients and "appropriately terminate service," but that cost the agency money.

"Yes, the notice was short," said Veronica Vera, spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Human Services. "There was a $1.6 billion shortfall we needed to close to ensure core services were available to those who needed it most. The longer was waited to suspend the grants, the more costly it would become and the more grants we would have to suspend."

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