The state of Illinois has awarded a five-year grant of approximately $4.5 million to the Lake County Health Department/Community Health Center.
The grant is designed to give qualifying individuals living in state-funded mental health institutions an opportunity to live independently with professional support.
Among the first steps the health department has taken to launch this program is the coordination of a consumer-run drop-in center. Located at 3002 Grand Ave. in Waukegan, the center is designed to provide a nonclinical environment for individuals to socialize, receive support from their peers and access computers.
The center is open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and noon to 3 p.m. Saturdays.
The supervised building space includes a computer room, a cafe and a seating area with a big-screen television. Down the hall are offices for a team of mental health professionals who supervise the program.
Funding for the program is the result of a lawsuit brought against the state. The settlement, called Williams Consent Decree, encourages qualifying individuals to be moved out of state-funded facilities where a majority of patients have mental illness. These individuals are moving into communities to live independently with help from case managers and a team of mental health professionals.
The state chose programs in Lake, Cook, Kankakee and Peoria counties to act on the lawsuit settlement.
"Those who can live on their own with support should be allowed to do so. We are grateful the state is moving in this direction," said Dr. Ted Testa, who oversees the health department's Behavioral Health Services programs.
To move out of an institution, an individual must have a mental health illness, be willing and able to move and accept the terms of the program, as well as have approval from his or her guardian.
In Lake County, the individuals, called Williams Consent Decree class members, are moving from Lake Park Center Nursing Home and Bayside Terrace Center, both in Waukegan, as well as Abbott House in Highland Park.
"It is a program of recovery and empowerment," said Darcell Rasmussen, who coordinates the program through the health department.
The overall goal of the program is to move patients to permanent supportive housing where they will have full privacy. To meet this goal, patients will receive transition coordination, support to continue their education or to get a job, as well as coaching from peers who have lived through similar experiences.
To date, 10 individuals have joined the health department's program and another 150 are expected to transition into independent living through the program in the next four years.