Kane County using $2.3M grant to become hub for social, mental health services

Updated 5/16/2019 5:34 PM

One of the gaps in Kane County's public health needs plays out over and over in schools.

A 15-year-old gets tied in with a gang. The student's school work suffers. Behavior gets destructive and disruptive, leading to expulsion.


School officials, counselors and law enforcement try to steer that student back on track. They may or may not be successful. Meanwhile, they know that student has four siblings at high risk to follow the same path to nowhere.

"Are we going to wait until they are 15 and doing the same thing? Or are we going to intervene?" said Michael Isaacson, assistant director of community health for the Kane County Public Health Department. "Right now, there's a lot of, 'Hey, I'm just doing my job.' Everybody can't do everything. But we have data that it's nobody's job to act on, and we know if we acted on it, people would do better."

Isaacson and the health department received a $2.3 million grant to better link people with health needs to the service providers who can address those needs. A randomized survey of 1,100 residents has pushed the health department to set some of the focus on mental health and social services.

That survey showed 20 percent of respondents self-identify their mental health as fair to poor. They also identified mental health services as the greatest public health need in the county, even more important than substance abuse treatment.

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Isaacson told county board members this week that more people go to the hospital for mental health issues than any other health care need except for childbirth.

"Look at the suicides. Look at all the drug overdoses. We need to do something," he said.

Health department officials are in an information-gathering year to identify other health gaps. They are seeking public and stakeholder input in hopes of forging a new network where the department works as a hub to connect people to health services.

That also involves reaching out to stakeholders, like those who may have insight into the home life of a 15-year-old gang member, to think about how to better coordinate services and reach all the members of that family who may be contributing to the teen's actions or being negatively influenced by them.

"What's a perfect world look like? A need is identified through a screening or a teacher or a counselor. And then whatever it is that person needs, they get it," Isaacson said.


The information-gathering process will also help the health department better identify needs that are financially challenging to access or impossible to access because there are no providers of the service.

Child psychiatrists are a "huge, huge need" locally and nationally, Isaacson said. The number of child psychiatrists is dwindling, he said, but that's far from the only specialty care gap.

"How helpful is it for a medical professional to say to a patient, 'You've got something in your brain. You need a neurologist.' And then the patient says, 'Oh, where do I get one?' And then the answer is, 'You can't afford a neurologist.'

"You don't want that situation, but it happens," Isaacson said. "If we identify something, we have to be able to get you to some help."

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