The Kennedy Forum Illinois Statement on the Health and Disabilities Advocates Report, The Role of Mental Health in Chicago’s Public Health System (CDPH)

The Kennedy Forum is working toward lasting change in the way mental health and addictions are considered and treated. Our mission is to end stigma against mental health and substance use disorders. Stigma exists in attitudes, but also in practice. The status quo discriminates against those among us with mental health and addiction challenges. This occurs not just in the way we talk about and regard people who mental health challenges, but also in systemic barriers to access, quality care and support, and insurance coverage.

Breaking down stigma also means breaking down barriers. The recent independent analysis by Health and Disabilities Advocates (HDA) demonstrates that critical barriers remain, and the report’s recommendations for addressing some of these systemic barriers to quality care are sensible and achievable.

We support the HDA’s assertion that a coordinated, interdepartmental strategy to mental health and addiction is called for, and that City, County and State leadership has an important role to play in articulating a shared, proactive vision. It is time for a more coordinated approach, both between departments and among governmental units. We also believe that the private sector, including providers, employers and insurers have a critical role in removing barriers for those with mental illness, including addiction.

HDA’s recommendation to improve quality at the remaining City-managed mental health clinics is important. All individuals and families, regardless of income, deserve access to high quality, comprehensive and coordinated care. If the City considers partnerships with high-quality community providers to deliver this care, such partnerships should be evaluated primarily on their ability to serve the current population better. The patient is primary. It is critical that services continue without interruption, at the same location, and that patients are not lost to care. If cost savings is achieved, any savings should be reinvested in evidence-based interventions to address mental health and addiction in underserved populations, with a focus on some of our most vulnerable: children and justice-involved populations.

Our vision is a future where all persons are treated with dignity and receive the person-centered mental and physical care and support they need to thrive and achieve their goals; with a health system that fully recognizes that the brain is part of the body. Achieving this is not a government job or an insurance company job or a health care provider job. It’s our job. All of us. Together.

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In Illinois, The Kennedy Forum is led by a diverse Leadership Council of civic, business, philanthropic, faith and community leaders who have come together to end stigma against mental health and substance use disorders in attitudes and practice. We envision a future where all persons are treated with dignity and receive the person-centered mental and physical care and support they need to thrive and achieve their goals; with a health system that fully recognizes that the brain is part of the body. http://thekennedyforumillinois.org/

* Anne Burke and Kathryn Zenhoff are members of The Kennedy Forum Leadership Council, however, they do not participate on policy matters or endorse positions on policy issues.

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