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Local News

Illinois owes $1.4 million to Will County Health Department

JOLIET – Will County Board member Judy Ogalla, R-Monee, described the local health department Thursday as a “leader” among local agencies in paying close attention to its fiscal bottom line.

“I certainty hope other departments will look at you and say, ‘Hey, what can we do to cut costs in our area?’ ” Ogalla told the agency’s director, Susan Olenek, during a meeting of the Will County Board’s Public Health and Safety Committee. “I think that same application can be used to help cut costs elsewhere.”

In the face of a nearly $900,000 budget deficit last year, the Will County Health Department laid off about 20 employees and eliminated or reduced eight programs to avoid falling further into the red. All but $100,000 of the deficit was because of the loss of state grants, Olenek said.

Local government agencies like the Will County Health Department are increasingly being forced to take harder looks at their finances amid Illinois’ ongoing fiscal nightmare.

Olenek went before the committee Thursday to update members on the latest developments. She said the department is owed $1.4 million from the state, which stopped sending payments July 1.

Program cuts made thus far include Healthy Families Illinois, which provided home visits and parent coaching; services for low-risk offenders referred by the court system, including counseling services for drug addicts and sex offenders; a drug addictions program; and psychiatric services.

The Will County Health Department isn’t alone in its attempt to cut costs. Nearly half of local health departments in Illinois have reported decreased capacity caused by the budget impasse – including lay-offs, cuts to the length of the work week, reduced hours of operation, or reduced, suspended or terminated services, according to a January report from the Illinois Public Health Association.

Olenek said similar cost-cutting measures likely will have to be made again in the upcoming fiscal year. Division heads are taking a closer look at staffing needs for the agency’s various programs, she said.

“That’s going to be crucial in making these same decisions that we’re going to have to make for this next budget year,” Olenek said.

Joseph Troiani, director of behavior health programs, said the local agency is working closely with nonprofits – even ones in DuPage and Cook counties – to ensure residents once serviced through now-eliminated programs can find similar services elsewhere in the community.

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