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A Bold New Plan to Help the Mentally Ill in Cook County

March 8, 2016

A new 24-hour Cook County mental health triage center aims to provide a better place for police to take individuals experiencing psychiatric or substance abuse crises. County officials say the Community Triage Center (CTC) will provide better treatment for individuals with mental and behavioral health conditions and will result in a more cost-efficient use of the healthcare system. Expected to open later this year, the CTC could divert hundreds of individuals from local emergency rooms and the Cook County Jail in the first year. About 20 percent of county jail detainees are locked up due to mental health problems.

Based on successful models in other cities, “the CTC will provide evaluation, crisis stabilization and treatment for patients presenting with psychiatric and/or substance-related crises, and work closely with the local hospitals and outpatient mental health services to best meet patient needs 24 hours a day, 7 days week, 365 days per year,” Cook County Health & Hospitals System (CCHS) officials said in a press release. “Additionally, CCHHS intends to work closely with the Chicago Police Department to allow police officers to drop off individuals and rapidly return to their patrol areas, as well as provide walk-in services for residents and for those released from the Cook County Jail needing follow-up care.”

“Waiting until an at-risk individual is arrested and detained is both costly and a failure of our societal systems. If we can employ strategies to link individuals with the needed services before they commit a crime related to untreated or undertreated behavioral health disorders, then we can reduce the jail population, emergency room visits and improve the health and safety of our communities,” said Dr. Jay Shannon, CCHHS CEO.

Every taxpayer will also likely benefit, the AP report went on to say. “Nationally, as mental institutions closed in recent years, jails in large and small cities saw a surge in inmates with serious mental illnesses, most of them arrested for nonviolent crimes. This year, the County will spend $80 million for all health care, including mental health treatment, for adult and juvenile detainees. Cities smaller than Chicago with triage centers have reaped savings in jail and hospital costs. San Antonio, Texas, documented annual savings of $2.4 million in jail costs tied to public intoxication, $1.5 million in jail costs for mental health and $1 million in emergency room costs. Minneapolis saved $2.16 for every dollar spent on its triage center. Salt Lake City reported emergency room use by mentally ill people in crisis fell by 90 percent.”

In 2012, Illinois closed three mental health centers, including a psychiatric hospital in suburban Chicago and the city closed half of its mental health clinics, according to the AP report. “(Sheriff Tom) Dart has complained about the Cook County Jail becoming a ‘dumping ground’ for the mentally ill.” He told the AP “(I) believe the triage center’s success will hinge on whether police are well-trained.”

Nash Disability Law (NDL) is proud to report we are a sponsor of the 2016 National Alliance on Mental Illness – Chicago (NAMI) annual dinner (http://www.namichicago.org/events/light-darkness/). The event will honor a Chicago policeman instrumental in what is known as Crisis Intervention Training (CIT). The critical role of this training has received increasing recognition in connection with certain of the recent incidents of police shootings.

NDL also applauds this new county initiative effort to provide better care and a more enlightened view regarding the treatment of those with mental disorders. To read about another step forward in the broader acceptance of the notion that physical and mental problems are all ultimately interrelated read our blog: The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.