Gov. Pritzker announces initiative to reshape mental health services

New Behavioral Health Workforce Education Center announced

Governor JB Pritzker along with state and local officials celebrated the launch of a new Behavioral Health Workforce Education Center, which will increase Illinois’ capacity to recruit, educate, and retain behavioral health professionals. The Center builds upon the state’s commitment to behavioral health transformation, strengthening behavioral health care infrastructure and access across the state.

Housed at Southern Illinois University’s School of Medicine, the Center was created in partnership with the University of Illinois Chicago (UIC) Jane Addams College of Social Work, the Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE), and the Illinois Department of Human Services (DHS).

“From care portals and universal screenings to improved coordination of service delivery and increased statewide capacity, we are laying out a plan to build the best behavioral health system in the nation,” said Governor JB Pritzker. “We’re launching the Behavioral Health Workforce Education Center, a partnership between the Illinois Board of Higher Education, Southern Illinois University’s School of Medicine, and the University of Illinois Chicago’s Jane Addams College of Social Work. It will begin with a $5 million annual investment from the Department of Human Services to help both rural and urban areas of our state address the behavioral healthcare crisis to increase access to effective services for all Illinoisans”

In Illinois and across the nation, behavioral health professionals are only able to provide a fraction of the services required to meet the population’s needs due to a national shortage of workers. The Center was established to combat these critical shortages in the workforce by addressing barriers to recruitment and training, collecting data on behavioral health needs, increasing diversity in the workforce, and expanding the capacity of health care providers to meet behavioral health needs.

Southern Illinois University School of Medicine (SIU SOM) will serve as the primary administrative hub in Springfield, providing coordination and support for building the behavioral health workforce pipeline and increasing entry into the field. The UIC Jane Addams College of Social Work will serve as the secondary hub, supporting specific data collection and training initiatives. Public and independent universities, as well as community colleges in ten regions, will be invited to participate as partners to increase the statewide impact.

The creation of the Center is a milestone in a long-term plan to address the behavioral health workforce emergency. State lawmakers sounded an alarm about the staffing shortages in a unanimous 2018 resolution. In 2019, a Behavioral Health Workforce Education Center Task Force issued a final report recommending the creation of a hub-and-spoke center to address unmet mental and behavioral health needs.

SIU SOM, UIC Jane Addams College of Social Work, and all consortium members will coordinate programs and oversee initiatives to increase the behavioral healthcare workforce and its capacity to provide high-quality behavioral health services across the state.

“We have been facing a workforce crisis in mental health for years due to a shortage of behavioral health specialists. Local staffing levels were already critical in rural and small urban communities, and the pandemic made matters worse globally, with a 25 percent increase in people seeking mental health care,” said Kari Wolf, MD, Chair of Psychiatry at SIU SOM and CEO of the Behavioral Health Workforce Center. “Through the Center, we aim to assess current educational pathways and create additional training opportunities to develop a diverse behavioral health workforce that is distributed across the entire state.”

“We’re excited to have this opportunity to understand the needs of the behavioral health workforce and support their training and career development,” said Sonya Leathers, PhD, UIC Jane Addams College of Social Work professor and co-director of Center activities at UIC. “We hope to increase access to effective services through initiatives that will provide critically needed support and training for behavioral health providers in a range of traditional and nontraditional settings.”

“The launch of the Behavioral Health Workforce Education Center is an integral step toward ending the behavioral health workforce crisis in Illinois and ensuring Illinois residents living with behavioral health issues or mental illness get the high quality, compassionate care they deserve,” said Assistant Majority Leader Natalie Manley, (D-Joliet). “Investments like these are critical to the health and wellbeing of people across Illinois, and as lawmakers, we must continue to bolster our behavioral and mental health response so that those in need have the opportunity to receive care that improves their quality of life.”

“We have taken strides to increase access to behavioral and mental health services,” said State Senator Doris Turner (D-Springfield). “Prioritizing behavioral health together with workforce development will continue the hard work we’ve done and lead us toward the common goal of adequately and effectively addressing the behavioral health workforce emergency.”

“As demand for behavioral health services has grown and the workforce has diminished, there’s been a great sense of urgency to tackle the employee shortage head-on,” said State Senator Julie Morrison (D-Lake Forest). “I am proud of the comprehensive plan the state has put forth to continue to diligently fill the void and provide much-needed care across the state.” The Illinois Behavioral Health Workforce Center is a joint initiative of the Illinois Department of Human Services and the Illinois Board of Higher Education. The Center will also coordinate with key state agencies involved in behavioral health, workforce development, and higher education in order to leverage disparate resources from health care, workforce, and economic development programs across the state.”

“As the Chair of the Behavioral and Mental Health Committee in the Senate, I understand the incredible input behavioral health specialists have on improving the mental health and well-being of so many Illinoisians,” said State Senator Laura Fine (D-Glenview). “The BHWEC will be a tremendous support to individuals working towards a career in behavioral and mental health. This will, in turn, address the needs of residents in our state. I look forward to working with the BHWEC and other state organizations to support behavioral health care providers and increase our mental health workforce.”

“For far too long, people with behavioral and mental health struggles have been left without proper care – in large part because of the ongoing workforce shortage,” said State Senator Mary Edly-Allen (D-Libertyville). “Behavioral and mental health care must be treated as all other forms of health care. Today, we are making an important step toward providing people in all corners of the state the treatment they deserve.”

“Everyone deserves equal access to behavioral and mental health care services. I’m pleased to hear that Behavioral Health Education Centers are being offered in partnership with the Dept. of Human Services, the Illinois Board of Higher Education, and key agencies to collaboratively bring more mental health workers to communities that badly need them,” said State Senator Mike Simmons (D-Chicago). “This initiative will help grow the number of behavioral health emergency workers and provide people in our community with the support they need and deserve.”

“As a strong proponent of both workforce development and behavioral healthcare, I am thrilled about the unveiling of the new Behavioral Health Workforce Center,” said State Representative Maurice West (D-Rockford). “This Center is a terrific example of Illinois state government working collaboratively, as the legislature, Pritzker Administration, state agencies, and public universities all came together to turn this idea into reality. We must prioritize behavioral health as part of the overall healthcare conversation, and the Behavioral Health Workforce Center will help ensure we have the highly skilled workers needed to support Illinoisans all across our state.”

“When it comes to mental health and wellness, we are at an inflection point of both need and willingness to seek support,” said State Representative Lindsey LaPointe (D-Chicago). “It’s now urgent for us as policy makers, in collaboration with our communities, to build up a behavioral healthcare workforce inclusive to every resident of Illinois across the lifespan – from teenagers accessing tele-health therapy to innovative trauma support for our unhoused neighbors.”

“The shortage of behavioral health workers needs to be met with a firm commitment to proactive education programs,” said State Representative Lakesia Collins, (D-Chicago). “By centralizing efforts for behavior health education, we can spur the growth of well-trained professionals in this field, and provide much-needed assistance to countless Illinoisans who need caregivers.”

“So many in our state are suffering from mental health and behavioral health problems and access to care is often difficult to find,” said State Representative Anna Moeller, (D-Elgin).

“Illinois needs a trained workforce of psychologists, psychiatric nurses, and counselors to meet the needs of people where they live and with the resources they need. I applaud SIU, UIC, the Illinois State Board of Education and the Department of Human Services for launching the new Behavioral Health Workforce Education Center. By bringing together higher education, healthcare and economic experts and stakeholders, more residents in our state will be able to access the critical mental and behavioral health care that they need.”

“I’m proud of this unprecedented commitment of state resources to rebuild our mental and behavioral health workforces and infrastructure,” said State Representative Sue Scherer, (D-Decatur). “Our healthcare infrastructure has been strained by budget challenges and global health emergencies, and while I know that there is a lot more work to be done to completely rebuild our capacity, this is a great step in the right direction.”

“I commend and thank Governor Pritzker for prioritizing behavioral health workforce development in Illinois. The Workforce Center is an opportunity to transform the system to make it more responsive to the needs of individuals, families and children in this State,” said Grace B. Hou, Secretary, Illinois Department of Human Services. “IDHS is energized to work with our partners to strengthen the infrastructure needed to provide critical services to those in need.”

“The Behavioral Health Workforce Center will help increase the number of behavioral health professionals in Illinois at a crucial time, as we are still grappling with the impacts of the pandemic,” said IBHE Executive Director Ginger Ostro. “Addressing workforce shortages and needs in the state is a key goal of the state’s strategic plan for higher education, and we are excited to work collaboratively with our agency and university partners to ensure we are meeting workforce needs in behavioral health in benefit of the people of Illinois.”

Click here to see all of the event photos.