Kane County releases $4 million in COVID money to address mental health crisis
Four months after Kane County's mental health service providers asked for emergency help in addressing COVID-19-fueled crisis levels in suicide and drug overdoses, county board members released $4 million Tuesday to address the problem.
The money comes after multiple social service agencies urged county officials last fall to share the $103 million in federal American Rescue Plan funds the county received. They spent months detailing a crisis of unprecedented mental health needs paired with overburdened professionals quitting their jobs. Local stats shared Tuesday by Kane County Assistant Director of Community Health Michael Isaacson supported those tales of woe.
Isaacson said suicide among county residents younger than 30 saw "a pretty significant increase" after the start of the pandemic. He also cited a 13% increase in drug overdoses.
"We have fewer resources to help people in a time where we have much greater need," Isaacson told the county board. "Historically, Kane County has not financially put money into support for mental health. The decisions that have been made to support that effort right now are important. These aren't just things like you're putting off painting your living room."
Mental health service providers in Kane County have waiting lists for help that are 10 times longer than they were pre-pandemic. At some providers, 1 in 4 positions is vacant. The annual average turnover at those organizations is now at 36%. And there are more than 200 jobs available for trained mental health professionals.
"Where maybe 25 people were on a waitlist before, there are 250 people now," Isaacson said.
The money released by the county board will target those issues.
Six service providers: the Association for Individual Development, Ecker Center, Family Counseling Services of Aurora, the Family Service Association of Greater Elgin, Mutual Ground and TriCity Family Services will receive $2 million. Those organizations will use the money to fund employee raises of as much as $4,000 and signing bonuses for new employees of as much as $1,000. There are additional bonuses for bilingual employees.
The grants will keep 24-hour mobile crisis units and hotlines running. Providers are committed to spending the money on providing individual, family and group therapy, medication-assisted treatment for substance use disorders, psychiatric care and residential or outpatient substance abuse treatment.
An additional $1 million will go toward smaller mental health organizations. Local homeless shelters will receive $750,000, and food pantries will receive the remaining $250,000.
More money may be on the way. Multiple county board members said the $4 million is "just a drop in the bucket" compared to the need. They called for a faster disbursal of the money. And they pushed their fellow board members to prioritize more funding for the agencies over the county's budget.
The county board used $16 million of the COVID funds to plug a budget deficit for 2022. Several board members want to keep using the federal money to address future expected deficits until they can figure out a way to cut spending or find new income. That will include a discussion of several possible tax increases for 2023.