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Local News

Will County Health Department to lay off 53 employees, reduce programs

Spokesman: Illinois budget impasse to blame, department owed $2.1 million

JOLIET — A total of 53 full-time Will County Health Department employees will be laid off May 27 as the local department staves off a $2.1 million shortfall caused by Springfield's political gridlock.

The layoffs will result in reductions across nine programs, said Vic Reato, spokesman for the department.

Five managers and 48 full-time union employees represented by American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees Local 1028 will be let go, effective May 27, Reato said.

The department currently has 316 employees, he said.

AFSCME Local 1028 has been notified. Thirty-day layoff notices will be sent out and the health department is also required to notify the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, Reato said.

The department's Board of Health voted Wednesday — with one member absent — to move forward with the layoffs. All board members present voted yes on the measure.

Illinois budget crisis

About one-third of the local health department's budget is funded through grants, some of which stem from the state. As Illinois heads into its 11th month without a budget, the department has yet to see that money.

"We'd like to emphasize this has nothing to do with any fiscal mismanagement," Reato said. "Without the state revenue, these programs cannot operate."

Four behavioral health programs and five family health services programs will undergo reductions. Areas of family case management, vision and hearing, HIV counseling, prevention and testing, and tobacco control will face reductions. Behavioral health services — including those for crisis response, juvenile justice and psychiatric medications — will also be reduced.

Adult psychiatric program eliminated

The department's community-based mental health outpatient program is set for elimination.

Mental health patients discharged from area hospitals make up the majority of patients served through the program, along with Medicaid and Medicare recipients, according to the department's website.

Neal Waltmire, a spokesman for the Responsible Budget Coalition, a coalition of more than 250 organizations throughout Illinois concerned about tax and budget issues, said the cuts to mental health will harm families.

"The failure of leaders in Springfield to put non-budget agendas aside and choose revenue to invest in mental health will cost Will County taxpayers more and harm families and public safety," Waltmire said.

Waltmire pointed to a 2013 Illinois Hospital Association report, which noted how when Illinois cut mental health services from 2009 to 2011, the state actually increased its costs by an estimated $18.4 million because of increased emergency room visits and institutional placements.

The Will County Health Department cut 20 jobs late last year in mental health and family health services to stave off a $900,000 deficit. The cuts included 16 union employees and four managers.

Nearly half of local health departments in Illinois have reduced capacity due to the state's budget crisis, according to a January report from the Illinois Public Health Association. Of those, more than one-third have laid off staff and one-sixth have reduced hours.

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