Recommendations for Building a Mental Health and Substance Use Treatment System for Illinois

Thresholds, Kennedy Forum Illinois, and NAMI Chicago issue joint recommendations for legislators; Governor-elect Pritzker

Read the recommendations:
Executive Summary (link)
Full Report (link)

Chicago, IL – Mental health and substance use treatment work. They just need to be accessible at the right time and in the right place. With stable housing, employment opportunities, support in the community and proper treatment, people live full lives, like others living with other medical conditions.

Thresholds, together with The Kennedy Forum Illinois and NAMI Chicago, has issued a set of recommendations to Governor-elect Pritzker and members of the General Assembly to guide key policy priorities in 2019 and beyond. Prioritized over the next three years, these recommendations focus on:

  • Prioritizing Prevention and Early Treatment
  • Developing Services for People in a Mental Health or Substance Use Crisis
  • Ending Insurance Discrimination

As we approach the inauguration of Governor-elect Pritzker and several new legislators, now is the time for an aggressive agenda that puts Illinois at the forefront of mental health and substance use treatment.

The stakes couldn’t be higher. Between 2013 and 2016, opioid overdose deaths in Illinois increased 82% and continue to rise. And Illinois’ suicide rate increased 23% between 1999 and 2016 and is the third leading cause of death for young people between the ages of 15 and 34. As a result, annual overdose deaths and suicides in Illinois each now outpace homicides.

Many of you – individuals with lived experience, providers, and advocates – have identified these gaps and worked tirelessly towards solutions. We invite you to review the recommendations and join us in continuing to advocate on behalf of these issues to create a nation-leading mental health and substance use treatment system in Illinois.

Press Contact: Emily Moen, Vice President of Public Relations and Marketing, 773-572-5172

New Program Gives Justice-Involved Persons Living with Serious Mental Illness Free Legal Support

Justice-involved individuals living with serious mental illness now have access to civil legal assistance, thanks to a new partnership between Legal Council for Health Justice and Thresholds.

Under the partnership, individuals with serious mental illness who are served by Thresholds’ Justice Program now have access to free, trauma-informed benefits advocacy. Individuals with serious mental illness have an especially difficult experience navigating the process of applying for Social Security disability. On any given day, between 25-30 percent of the individuals at Cook County Jail struggle with a mental illness. For those living with serious mental illnesses and leaving the jail, expediting access to Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and/or Social Security Disability (SSDI) can help stabilize ex-offenders when they are most at risk of relapse and reoffending.

A stable source of income is critical in combating recidivism and improving a person’s health, welfare, and quality of life. Studies show it is the most influential social determinant of health. This new partnership targets individuals who are among the highest cost drivers of medical, criminal justice, and social service costs, and prioritizes access to a unique model of civil legal aid to improve the chances of receiving a steady income and end the cycle of incarceration and homelessness.

Nationally, 20 percent of jail inmates are living with a serious mental illness:
• The average stay for inmates with mental illnesses in jail is longer than for inmates without mental illnesses.
• In one study, jail inmates with mental illnesses were twice as likely to be charged with facility rule violations.
• Many inmates with mental illnesses are in jail longer because they find it difficult to understand and follow jail rules.
• Inmates with mental illnesses are also often held for months awaiting the availability of a bed in a psychiatric hospital.
• Inmates with mental illnesses cost more than those without mental illnesses for a variety of reasons, including increased staffing needs.

Medical-Legal Partnerships (MLPs) offer a collaborative solution for individuals facing barriers due to medical conditions. Service providers at Thresholds refer individuals to Legal Council to receive legal support with their application and appeals for Social Security disability benefits. The services of a dedicated attorney are provided in the community and on-site at Cook County Jail alongside the Justice team and continue until a resolution is reached.


Legal Council for Health Justice uses the power of the law to secure dignity, opportunity, and well-being for people facing barriers due to illness and disability. Legal Council partners with health and hospital systems to train and support the care provider network, provide direct representation to referred patients, and conduct systemic advocacy to promote health equity among populations facing chronic, disabling, and stigmatizing health and social conditions. Find out more at

Thresholds provides healthcare, housing, and hope for more than 15,000 persons with mental illnesses and substance use disorders in Illinois each year. Through care, employment, advocacy, and housing, Thresholds assists and inspires people with mental illnesses to reclaim their lives. Thresholds offers 30 innovative programs at more than 100 locations throughout Chicago, the adjacent suburbs, and nine surrounding counties. Find out more at

Illinois Passes Short-Term Health Plans Law Safeguarding Consumers’ Health Coverage

Illinois State Capitol BuildingSPRINGFIELD – Yesterday, Illinois healthcare advocates won a major victory in the fight to protect health coverage for those with pre-existing medical conditions. The Illinois General Assembly overrode Governor Rauner’s veto of a bill that will protect consumers by regulating short-term health insurance plans.

The bill, SB1737, which will now become law, will limit short-term plans that leave people at risk of expensive medical bills because they need care their plans do not cover.

Because of the efforts of healthcare consumers, providers, and advocates, Illinois is among a handful of states which have taken the lead in putting in place important protections to help healthcare consumers avoid the dangers of short-term health plans that often offer fewer health benefits. This is especially important now because these plans have been permitted to grow under a new federal rule.

As Illinois faces an ongoing mental health crisis and a deadly opioid epidemic, it is vital that people have access to the healthcare they need to be well, including mental health and substance use treatment. The passage of SB1737 is an important step in the right direction for protecting access to treatment in the state of Illinois.

Thresholds Awarded Additional Grant from Boeing Company

Contribution Adds $115,000 Grant for Veteran Mental Health Services

Chicago, IL – Today, the Boeing Company announced that it has awarded the Thresholds Veterans Project an additional grant of $115,000 to support a variety of evidenced-based therapies designed to help veterans manage their symptoms and work through trauma. The award will enhance the Veterans Project’s capacity to provide three evidence-based therapies for veterans, including BREATHE, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy.

“Society has many different views about our soldiers and the war,” says Thresholds Veterans Project Program Director, Fernando Valles. “Our clinical staff at Thresholds and Boeing are changing those views one veteran at a time. We are grateful to Boeing for the opportunity to influence our veteran community by finally helping them grow and thrive.”

Boeing’s contribution will also provide essential funding needed to increase therapeutic services, with a focus on increasing outreach to women veterans through systematic, targeted collaboration with community organizations serving this population. Women account for approximately 10% of the entire veteran population, but according to a study by the Disabled American Veterans, nearly one in five women veterans have delayed or gone without needed treatment, and more than half of those who did access care did so for mental health reasons.

“Thresholds is so grateful for the generosity of our friends at Boeing,” says Thresholds CEO Mark Ishaug. “Not only will Thresholds be able to better serve our veteran clients through the expansion of evidence-based services we currently provide, but we will be able to build upon that with a new program that will help us serve these men and women as soon as they come to us. Our reach will be greater than ever, and our impact all the more everlasting.”

Chicago-based Boeing is the world’s largest aerospace company and leading manufacturer of commercial jetliners and defense, space and security systems. Through purposeful investments, employee engagement and thoughtful advocacy efforts, Boeing and its employees support innovative partnerships and programs that align with the company’s strategic objectives, create value and help build better communities worldwide. Boeing’s efforts are focused on improving access to globally competitive learning, contributing to workforce and skills development, and supporting our military and veteran communities.

Thresholds is one of the largest providers of recovery services for mental health and substance use disorders in Illinois, providing healthcare, housing, and hope for thousands of persons with mental illnesses each year. Through care, employment, advocacy, and housing, Thresholds assists and inspires people with mental illnesses and substance use disorders to reclaim their lives.

Thresholds’ Statement on 2018 Midterm Elections Results

On November 6th, Illinoisans joined voters around the country in casting their ballots for elected officials to represent them at the federal, state, and local levels. Voter turn-out in many parts of our state was at a record high. Thank you to all the Thresholds advocates who took time to cast your vote and make your voice heard!

We congratulate last night’s winners, both returning and newly-elected. Incoming elected officials will be sworn into office in January. As they are seated, we welcome the opportunity to partner with federal and state policymakers across the political spectrum to advance meaningful changes to mental health and substance use treatment policies and systems.

We are encouraged by Governor-elect Pritzker’s focus on mental health, universal healthcare coverage, and identifying new sources of revenue. Balancing Illinois’ budget and sustainably funding healthcare, human services, and other critical supports necessary for ensuring that all Illinoisans have what they need to live well and thrive must be a top priority for the new Governor and his Administration.

In spite of challenging and complex political and budgetary dynamics in recent years, together, we have made important strides on expanding access to early treatment, improving rates to grow services, and maintaining health coverage and consumer protections for those living with mental health and substance use conditions. In this next chapter, we look forward to continuing to work with our existing champions as well as the chance to cultivate new allies in the ongoing effort to preserve the Affordable Care Act, protect Medicaid, and strengthen access to mental health and substance use treatment.

An overview of election results can be found here.

Thresholds Honored as a Chicago Tribune Top Workplace for Fifth Consecutive Year

Thresholds Honored as a Chicago Tribune Top Workplace for Fifth Consecutive Year

Ninth Annual Event Recognizes Chicago’s Leading Companies

Chicago, IL – Thresholds has been named one of Chicago’s most dynamic and supportive local workplaces, recognized by the Chicago Tribune’s Top Workplaces 2018 award. This is Thresholds’ fifth consecutive year receiving this honor.

This award is a testament to Thresholds’ culture of caring and support, both for our clients and for each other. Every day, our staff put forth their best efforts in pursuit of a mission to help the thousands of individuals living with serious mental illnesses and substance use conditions.

“This incredible honor would not be possible without the tireless and dedicated staff at Thresholds,” says Thresholds CEO Mark Ishaug. “Their work is often challenging, but their commitment to our clients is unwavering. They are so deserving of this recognition!”

Companies are selected based on feedback from employee surveys that measure key qualities such as communication, company leadership, career opportunities, working environment, managerial skills, salary and benefits.

“The Chicago Tribune has been part of the economic vibrancy of Chicago for 171 years,” said Publisher and Editor-in-Chief Bruce Dold. “We are proud to recognize those companies that stand out for their commitment to their employees and the community.”

Thresholds joined fellow honorees and more than 700 Chicago executives at the Top Workplaces 2018 event at Soldier Field on November 1.

If you would like to join the Thresholds team, visit our Careers page and apply today!

About Thresholds: Thresholds is one of the largest providers of recovery services for mental health and substance use disorders in Illinois, providing healthcare, housing, and hope for thousands of persons with mental illnesses each year. Through care, employment, advocacy, and housing, Thresholds assists and inspires people with mental illnesses and substance use disorders to reclaim their lives.

Bi-partisan Opioid Bill Expanding Access to Treatment Becomes Federal Law

This week, bi-partisan opioid legislation, called the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act, was signed into law. We commend both parties and both houses of Congress for coming together to stem the devastating opioid epidemic sweeping the nation.

The package improves access to treatment by establishing grants for comprehensive recovery centers, expanding access to medication assisted treatment, and lifting barriers to residential treatment. At a time when overdose deaths and suicides are reaching record highs, strong action and a united front are needed now more than ever.

While this legislation is an important step in the right direction, it is not a substitute for the larger investment needed to meaningfully grow access to mental health and substance use treatment. Decades of chronic under-investment coupled with Illinois’ recent budget impasse have left a major gap between the amount of treatment available and the number of people needing support. This is a good first step, but it is not enough to combat the ongoing opioid epidemic.

We hope that lawmakers will build upon this consensus and commitment to continue to work toward ensuring that all people in all communities have access to the treatment and support they need to recover and thrive.

Media Contact: Emily Moen, Vice President of Public Relations and Marketing, 715.308.1951

Donor Spotlight: Robert R. McCormick Foundation

Donor Spotlight: Robert R. McCormick Foundation

logo for robert r. mccormick foundation

In this month’s Donor Spotlight, Thresholds is featuring the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, a long-time supporter and partner of the agency.

The McCormick Foundation’s philanthropic mission is to foster communities of educated, informed, and engaged citizens.Through its generous support, the foundation continues the legacy of Col. Robert R. McCormick to improve the lives of people in the Chicagoland. With more than $1.5B in assets, it provides support through philanthropic grant making and oversees Cantigny Park, a thriving center for recreation and community service.

The McCormick Foundation has supported Thresholds for more than 40 years, playing an important role in helping the agency expand its services to different populations living with mental illness. This year the foundation extended its support to the Thresholds Westside Narcotics Diversion and Treatment Initiative. This program works with the Chicago Police Department to divert nonviolent drug offenders from incarceration by providing them immediate care. This includes life-saving medication-assisted treatment, psychiatry, treatment planning, and other services. The McCormick Foundation’s support is enabling the initiative to reach more clients and become sustainable.

We are deeply grateful for The McCormick Foundation’s enduring support of Thresholds and for believing in the work we do!

Governor Rauner Signs Early Mental Health and Addictions Treatment Act

Thresholds championed bill that provides early interventions for young people that prevent lifetime of disability and illness

Chicago, IL – Today Governor Rauner signed the bi-partisan Early Mental Health and Addictions Treatment Act into law.  Illinois will be the first state in the country to cover early treatment models through its Medicaid program if the federal government approves coverage. This early treatment is tailored for young people who have early signs of a serious mental health condition such as bi-polar disorder, severe depression or anxiety. Thresholds, in partnership with the Healthy Minds Healthy Lives Coalition, led the charge with a group of legislative leaders to address a glaring gap in Illinois’ continuum of care for mental health and substance use conditions.

Early treatment can prevent costly institutional care for individuals with mental health and substance use conditions – particularly use of jails as mental health treatment centers. Mental health community treatment costs a fraction of treatment in jail (74% less) or hospitalization (95% less).

Illinois, and the nation, are grappling with a long-standing mental health crisis.  People of all ages who have treatable mental health conditions go without treatment for years due to stigma or a lack of access to the right treatment. This all too often leads to debilitating symptoms, high suicide rates, and substance use for self-medication. This legislation will stop that trajectory for thousands across our state and enable early treatment aimed specifically for adolescents and young adults so they can be well and thrive in life.

“We know through research and practice that early intervention is key to reducing lifelong impact of serious mental health challenges.  In Illinois, these mental health challenges often have to worsen to the point of disability before comprehensive, targeted treatment is covered.  This bill takes the important first steps to address that gap,” says Marc Fagan, PsyD, Vice President of Clinical Operations & Youth Services at Thresholds.

The legislation also takes steps to address the state’s raging overdose epidemic by allowing substance use treatment to be delivered in a person’s home or other setting, instead of solely in a community clinic. This approach has shown success in helping individuals cope with everyday life triggers that have led to the substance use, but until now, this type of treatment has not been covered through the state’s Medicaid program.

“Outreach models are incredibly effective for mental health conditions, and evidence shows us that this treatment model can be just as useful for individuals struggling with substance use,” says Gabriela Zapata-Alma, Program Director of Substance Use Treatment at Thresholds. “For many, delivering care in a real-life setting outside of a clinic or institution can be the key to recovery.”

We want to thank Sen. Melinda Bush, Sen. Dale Righter, and Rep. Sara Feigenholtz for championing this legislation, all the members of the Illinois General Assembly who voted for it, and Governor Rauner for making Illinois a national leader in early mental health and substance use treatment. To learn more about Thresholds and the Healthy Minds Healthy Lives coalition, visit our website.

Media Contact: Emily Moen, VP Public Relations & Marketing, 715-308-1951

Donor Spotlight: Community Mental Health Board of Oak Park Township

Donor Spotlight: Community Mental Health Board of Oak Park Township

Thresholds is pleased to feature the Community Mental Health Board of Oak Park Township (CMHB) in this month’s Donor Spotlight. Started by the Oak Park Township following a referendum in 1973, the CMHB is comprised of nine Oak Park residents, committed to facilitating a wide range of mental health services for residents of Oak Park, including planning, coordinating, funding, and evaluating services.

For over 10 years, the CMHB has been an extraordinary partner to Thresholds in assisting persons living with chronic mental illnesses in achieving and maintaining recovery. The CMHB fills a critical need by providing funding for uninsured individuals with serious mental illnesses living in Oak Park. With this funding, Thresholds is able to provide these individuals with community support, clinical interventions, and case management services that they would otherwise not have access to.

Additionally, the CMHB has provided funding for infrastructure improvements for Thresholds’ residential building for Oak Park clients with mental illnesses. This has made it possible for Thresholds to purchase items such as computers, clothing, and furnishings to further enhance the lives of these clients.