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Local News

More than 52,000 clients affected by Will County Health Department program losses

Executive director to testify Wednesday on human services stopgap funding bill

The Will County Health Department in Joliet.
The Will County Health Department in Joliet.

JOLIET — More than 52,000 clients are estimated to be affected by the Will County Health Department's decision to suspend a handful of programs, according to a department news release.

The department — faced with a $2.1 million shortfall caused by the state's budget impasse — announced last week it was laying off 53 employees. The agency is also suspending nine programs, including its adult psychiatric services.

Those affected include 39,000 served by a school vision and hearing program, 1,800 behavioral health clients and 4,000 clients who use HIV prevention and education services, according to the news release.

A union representative for Will County Health Department employees slated for layoffs later this month said the loss of programming will have a ripple effect on the community's “most vulnerable citizens."

David Delrose, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 1028, said while employees are aware of the Illinois budget crisis, the scope and immediacy of the layoffs were unexpected.

“It's shock. It's concern, and not even just concern for their own jobs and their families but we have dedicated our careers to serving people that are some of our most vulnerable citizens in our community-based programs,” Delrose said. “[The potential for] great suffering and some tragedies as well is weighing on the hearts and minds of employees.”

In total, 48 union employees and five managerial positions will be laid off May 27, and 13 positions will be frozen. Savings are estimated at just over $2 million.

The department's outpatient mental health services are among those being suspended. Mental health patients discharged from area hospitals make up the majority of clients served by the program, along with Medicaid and Medicare recipients.

"If they don't have a way to manage their illness, they are at risk of [mental health deterioration], having to go to the ER in a crisis situation," Delrose said. "And God forbid, even more tragic things like suicide, or being involved with the criminal justice system, which affects the courts and capacity at the Will County jail."'

In the department's behavioral health division, adult psychiatric services, capitated care, crisis response, juvenile justice and psychiatric medications will be suspended. In family services, family case management, vision and hearing care, HIV prevention, and tobacco control will be suspended.

Restored funding?

Sue Olenek, executive director for the Health Department, is set to testify during a legislative hearing this week about House Bill 4995.

The bill would restore $86 million of fiscal year 2016 funding to the Department of Human Services to, in part, pay for state-funded mental health programs. It would also allocate $233.2 million to the state's Department of Revenue.

The hearing is set for noon Wednesday in Room C-600 at the Michael A. Bilandic Building at 160 N. LaSalle St. in Chicago.

“The Will County Health Department is just one public health agency in the grand scheme of things,” Olenek said in the news release. “The lack of a state budget has created monumental problems impacting every corner of the state and virtually everyone living here. For Will County, the budget impasse means thousands of people going without critical family health and behavioral health services.”

Department spokesman Vic Reato said the restoration could allow the department to avoid layoffs and continue six of the nine suspended programs.

The prospect of passage is unclear. Last week, lawmakers and Rauner approved a bipartisan stopgap appropriations bill to infuse emergency dollars into higher education institutions.

That leaves social services as one of the last remaining hostages in Springfield's budget battle.

Presence Saint Joseph Medical Center is "prepared to deal with the potential impact of the pending Will County Health Department service reductions, and remains committed to providing care for the most vulnerable," according to a statement from Lisa Lagger, a spokeswoman for the Joliet hospital.

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