Roxanne Martino is a Thresholds Board Member and a Managing Partner of OceanM19.
In January 1991, I sat in on a Thresholds board meeting and lunch as reward for working one of their fundraisers and heard a moving story from the father of one of our clients. His child had been “the perfect daughter”, graduating head of her class and attending Harvard. However, one Christmas she came home and was very quiet, and a few weeks later her university roommate called to say she wouldn’t leave her dorm room. His wife went up to Cambridge to check on her, but when she got there their daughter had vanished. They didn’t hear from her for thirty years, until someone from Thresholds called and told them that they believed a current Thresholds client was their daughter.
One of Thresholds’ Mobile Assessment Unit caseworkers had befriended her in a park, and over the course of many months gained enough trust to learn her legal name. Because of one Thresholds staff’s dedication and persistence, this mother and father found their daughter they thought they’d lost so many years before.
I have been working with Thresholds since 1991 and have never once regretted it. I wanted to help people who were experiencing homelessness in a way that really worked, and found that Thresholds’ services offered the most comprehensive, long-term solutions.
Mental illness is a major issue for a large portion of people experiencing homelessness. Rather than handing out temporary fixes, the staff at Thresholds work with individuals to formulate long-term solutions. Thresholds gains people’s trust, helps them reconnect with their families, gets them access to social security, and provides the mental and physical healthcare they need.
As an individual progresses in their recovery, Thresholds moves with them, supporting them at every level. I think that with all the gifts that I’ve been given, I should spend my time helping those who can’t help themselves or have a very hard time helping themselves. To me, Thresholds is one of the most worthwhile organizations in Illinois because it helps people achieve lasting progress towards recovery and away from homelessness.
Want to add your own support, or increase your existing donation? Go to thresholds.org/donate.
Thresholds Applauds Governor Pritzker and Lawmakers for State Budget Increasing Investment in Treatment and Housing
SPRINGFIELD – This weekend, lawmakers concluded their legislative session by passing bi-partisan legislation approving a $40 billion state budget for fiscal year 2020 (FY20), including some increases to funding levels for mental health and substance use services, supportive housing, and construction projects. Governor Pritzker has indicated that he intends to sign the plan into law – good news to healthcare advocates and providers throughout the state.
Funding increases include an additional $40 million for mental health and substance use services delivered through Medicaid, as well as $7 million in targeted new spending to bolster treatment in underserved communities. The proposal also calls for an additional $8.5 million for supportive housing.
There will be a state administrative process that is expected to take a few months for determining what specific mental health services will receive rate increases. We, therefore, are uncertain at this time whether Thresholds’ services will be included, but we remain hopeful and will continue to fight for rates that cover the full cost of services.
The state legislature also approved nearly $45 billion to support capital projects like new construction, facility maintenance, and property acquisition, representing the first major capital infusion Illinois has seen in a decade. Thresholds is thrilled to receive $1.1 million for the establishment of a flagship integrated care center on the south side of Chicago and other projects aimed at expanding our capacity to serve in the city. The proposed budget is a stark departure from the austerity and turmoil that have plagued Illinois in recent years.
The FY20 budget, which is slated to take effect July 1, signifies a renewed commitment to strengthening the public services that are the foundation of healthy and vibrant communities across Illinois.
“Year after year, healthcare and human services have experienced chronic underinvestment that tragically prevented us from reaching the thousands who could benefit from treatment. The proposed new funding in the coming year’s budget represents hope – hope that Illinois has finally started on the road to fiscal stability and a healthier future for all Illinoisans,” says Mark Ishaug, Thresholds CEO.
Increased funding will be supported through a combination of new revenue sources, including the regulation of new industries and state fee adjustments. Legislators also passed legislation to allow voters the option of moving to a graduated income tax, also called the “Fair Tax,” a structure similar to that used by the federal government and in numerous other states, including several in the Midwest region.
We are grateful to the members of the General Assembly for allocating additional funding to strengthen critical public investments and we thank Governor Pritzker for his vision and leadership during the budget development process. We are excited for the opportunity that the FY20 budget presents and we look forward to continuing to work with the Pritzker Administration and the legislature to grow access to treatment and housing so that all Illinoisans can live well and thrive.
WE DID IT! Last night, the Illinois House passed the Children and Young Adult Mental Health Crisis Act (HB2154), groundbreaking legislation that will transform Illinois’ early mental health treatment system. This initiative of the Healthy Minds Healthy Lives Coalition now proceeds to the desk of the Governor.
We had the opportunity to work closely with our partners at the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services on this historic legislation and we are optimistic that Governor Pritzker will sign it into law marking a new chapter for the thousands of families touched by mental health challenges each year. Research tells us that most serious mental health conditions begin to manifest by age 24. Yet, sadly, our treatment system is not structured to respond to the realities of early onset conditions, leaving many to struggle combating their conditions for a lifetime.
This bill aims to change that story and to avoid preventable tragedy. The Children and Young Adult Mental Health Crisis Act shifts the focus from crisis and late stage services to support when symptoms first begin, by:
- Restructuring the Family Support Program to prevent crisis by making a more robust set of services available sooner rather than later and strengthening family engagement
- Improving access to preventative services under Medicaid and bringing together decision makers to coordinate investments and align systems
- Expanding private insurance coverage to include team-based early treatment models proven to curtail the debilitating effects of serious mental health conditions
We owe a debt of gratitude to our fearless sponsors, Representative Sara Feigenholtz and Senator Heather Steans, who are true champions for mental health and whose steadfast leadership helped successfully steer us through the legislative process. We must also thank the Department of Healthcare and Family Services, Department of Human Services, and Department of Insurance for collaborating with us to position Illinois as a national leader in early mental health treatment. Finally, we are grateful to the advocates, people with lived experience, and providers around the state who worked so hard year after year to pave the way for this important piece of legislation.
When signed into law, Illinoisans will have access to preventative services and early treatment regardless of insurance type. We hope that this legislation will serve as a model for the nation so that all young people experiencing a serious mental health condition receive the comprehensive care they need to grow healthy and thrive.
For this month’s Donor Spotlight, we are proud to feature the Michael Reese Health Trust. Since 1995, Michael Reese has supported organizations dedicated to the health and wellbeing of some of the most vulnerable individuals in the Chicago metropolitan area.
Recently, Michael Reese awarded a $75,000 grant to support Thresholds’ public policy and advocacy work. As part of the Health Minds, Healthy Lives Coalition, Thresholds’ policy agenda this year includes major initiatives to grow access to care, including advocacy to significantly increase the state’s Medicaid investment in treatment, and re-focusing the system toward early treatment for children, adolescents and young adults.
Previously, Michael Reese awarded Thresholds a Core grant to launch a call center that streamlined communication throughout the agency, among partner organizations, and with our clients. Over the past two decades, The Michael Reese Health Trust has supported the work we do at Thresholds through more than $600,000 in funding. We are truly grateful for Michael Reese’s support as we continue to help our clients on their paths to recovery and hope!
According to the World Health Organization, “there is no health without mental health.” I share my personal story of how mental illness impacted the health and wellness of my sister Debby, cutting her life short, and affecting my life forever.
Debby was my gentle and artistic sister. She lived a very typical life: went to school, had a good job, lived in an apartment of her own (with a cat and dog), and enjoyed going out dancing on the weekends. But that all changed when she told our parents that she started hearing negative, criticizing voices in her head.
In her early twenties, Debby was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia; thus, began the years of various treatments, hospitalizations, medications, and the side effects that came with it all. Debby retreated from her past life, her family, and even herself. Finally, in her forties, mental illness had taken such a toll on her that she was unable to take proper care of herself, and she was moved into a nursing home.
One day a social worker told us about Thresholds – what a turning point!
Debby became a client of Thresholds in 1999, marking the beginning of her new life. She moved into her own apartment again, which made her feel safe and independent, and received comprehensive services through physical and mental health care, substance use treatment, medication management, and nutritional help.
With time, Debby was even able to go back to work with the help of Thresholds Supported Employment Program. She learned computer skills and proudly showed off certificates she earned. We felt much more like a family with her there, visiting her often and taking part in social activities with Thresholds. We were so very proud of her progress!
On Valentine’s Day, 2007, while dreaming of and planning for her future, Debby passed away at 51 years old. As much grief as I felt for her, the sight of her paintings on my wall at home brighten my day. I look at them and I feel hope, not just for myself but for the other Thresholds clients who are on the same recovery journey that she was.
Wendy Morgan is a longtime supporter of Thresholds.
I received my Illinois credential as a Certified Recovery Support Specialist in July 2017 and began working at Thresholds as a Peer Support Specialist in January 2018. As someone with lived experience with mental health and substance use conditions, this was a milestone in my recovery. It represented a commitment and self-worth that years of depression and drug addiction had nearly taken away.
My journey includes homelessness, incarceration, a revolving door of detox and mental health centers and isolation from family and friends. Visitors to my apartment used to call it “The Cave” because the shades were always down, there was tape over the peephole and I didn’t allow any noise. I experienced a level of hopelessness and desperation that has allowed me to identify with and have empathy for even the most challenging of situations that our clients may share.
More importantly, my surrender and subsequent recovery have allowed me to provide hope to individuals that may feel frustrated or lost in their own circumstances.
Five years ago, I had reached an emotional low point, and was admitted to a detox center. When that big metal door slammed behind me, I felt like something that had been chasing me for twenty years was shut outside.
Throughout my treatment, I developed the support system and tools that would help me rebuild my life. It wasn’t long before I became the Intake Specialist – assisting others in making the same decision for recovery that I did – for the same center that I was once a patient in. When I was ready to take the next step in my recovery, Thresholds was there.
One of the paradoxes of the 12 Step Program that I identify with is that we must “give it away to keep it”, meaning I maintain my recovery and emotional balance by helping others with theirs. When I step inside the Thresholds Freedom Center I feel a warmth and acceptance that go beyond anything I could have imagined.
Kevin Zeigler is a Certified Recovery Support Specialist working in the Peer Support Program at Thresholds.
Today is a statewide day of action and we need your help to grow access to mental health services!
Thousands of Illinoisans living with mental health conditions are unable to get the care they need to live well and thrive. The lack of access is tied to inadequate reimbursement rates for services. Current rates fail to cover the cost of care, preventing providers from being able to grow capacity and expand access to treatment.
Call your Illinois state representative and senator today!
- Talking point: “Please include in the budget the phased-in rate increases to community mental health reimbursement rates, as outlined in HB2486 and SB1673!”
How to make your voice heard:
- Click here to enter your address.
- Click the “Illinois” tab to find your STATE rep and senator.
- Call your state rep and senator; and ask them to support including mental health rate increases as outlined in HB2486 and SB1673 as part of the budget.
(Taken from an interview with Remere, a Thresholds client, by a member of the Thresholds Peer Success Team.)
“Basically I was always moving. I never stayed homeless in one spot. I was just trying to find someplace safe to sleep and lay down.”
Until he was nineteen, Remere spent his time traveling through various neighborhoods of Chicago, unable to build connections with others or hold much of a conversation at all. A severe stutter he developed at age four severely inhibited his ability to verbally communicate. When he need to communicate with others, he wrote it down on whatever scrap of paper he had on him.
One night, in the park he called his home for the time being, he lay down and prayed for a person that would understand and welcome him with kindness and acceptance. The next morning, he met a woman who handed him a sandwich and juice. She sat with him, communicating for hours by pen and paper. That woman was a Thresholds staff member, part of the Peer Success Team.
“She basically said, whatever you’re going through, it’s going to get better. I’m just really glad that somebody just showed me some sort of kindness. Most people don’t look at you for who you really are or what you might become.”
Remere has been with Thresholds ever since that day, and says that he feels as though his life changed dramatically. He was linked up to a speech pathologist through Thresholds and said that within a month he found his voice. After a few months of speech therapy, supported by his team at Thresholds, Remere “came out singing like a bird.”
“They helped me, saved me. I now have people around me that want to see me succeed. I started going [to a speech pathologist]. One of the staff members would take me. You don’t have to go alone. You have people who got your back now. That’s what everybody needs – a little hand.”
Thresholds also helped Remere secure housing. Remere became speechless and tearful when talking about his first apartment.
“That day…that day changed my life.”
He said that Thresholds was with him every day throughout the process, which brought him off the streets and out of homelessness for the first time in his life. He gained independence, strength and confidence with encouragement and guidance from Thresholds.
Remere is now 27 years old, and he is still passing on the good energy and kindness that was shown to him at one of the darkest points in his life. He told us about seeing a homeless man on the train and how deeply that man’s situation resonated within himself.
“I took that energy that [Thresholds] gave me and I basically kept going by helping others.”
Remere sat next to the man and gave the man hope by telling of his recovery. Before getting off at his stop, he gave the man his number and the number to Thresholds stating that he might be able to get help from the organization that gave him so much help and hope. The man called Remere months later. He connected with Thresholds and secured his very own apartment.
“I just heard it in his voice. He was crying on the phone and I started crying too…He was happy. I was able to help a very sick man the way I got help.”
Remere shared the confidence that Thresholds helped instill within him to continue moving forward as he became a father, found a job that he loves and continues to progress each and every day.
“Where I am in my life is all because of Thresholds. I’m thinking about inventions, about ways to progress, I’m just basically more thoughtful and advanced than I’ve ever been before. I’m more open to discuss what I’ve been through and I was merely 21 years old then.”
He ends his story with words of hope:
“I’m talking about whatever your past is, I’m talking about whatever you’re going through, you’re thinking this is the end. This is the way it’s going to be. No. It isn’t. Your past doesn’t determine your future. Only you can. If you ask for positive people, if you ask for good people to come, it’s exactly what’s going to happen.”
As I prepare to leave Thresholds after 24 years, I feel a great sense of gratitude for the Thresholds community. Through our work, we have built something amazing that benefits not only the Thresholds clients who use our services, but the community as a whole.
I have been supported, challenged, pressed to the limit and now launched into a new stage of life by my time at Thresholds. I am deeply appreciative of each client, colleague, leader, donor, and advocate that made these opportunities possible for me.
A few memories of my work here:
I recall Danny having the time of his life on his first camping trip with Thresholds. Danny was a blind man with a mental health challenge who was not just going camping for the first time, but even going horseback riding!
Larry, upon learning that I was leaving Thresholds, said, “You came all this way to see me! Ah, give me a hug!” This outburst of emotion came from a military veteran, who had spent time in the justice system, and had been frequently homeless. It was a pleasant, unexpected moment that I won’t soon forget.
Terri challenged my perceptions and beliefs as a trained professional. I served as his staff mentor and coach, but he taught me as much or more about being authentic and truly helpful.
Joy met me for the first time in an unfurnished, frigidly cold basement in Englewood. Her home had few possessions, but an abundance of hope. Joy showed me how a person can rise from the depths of depression and substance use disorder, and that nobody is truly “lost”.
Barry would frequently reminisce about the time the two of us had struggled to bring his refrigerator upstairs and how deeply grateful he was for this help. For Barry, who grappled intensely with loss and extreme mood fluctuations, the ability to build trust and bond with another person was a miracle.
As we completed our last session, Alice said to me, “Thank you. You saw me and had hope for me when I did not.” She spent the remainder of the session telling me about her current learnings of mindfulness, awareness, and how to manage symptoms of her mental illness.
These are just a few of the countless times that I have been deeply touched by the community that is Thresholds. I express immense appreciation for all the people who have and will continue to support us in these efforts of mutual growth and healing.
Note: All names besides David’s have been changed.
David Pock is a former Thresholds Managed Care Coordinator with over a quarter of a century’s experience working with people living with mental illnesses and substance use disorders.
New State Leadership Means New Opportunities
Governor Pritzker and the new General Assembly have taken office; and with a new leadership comes new opportunities. We are encouraged by the collaboration between the Governor and the General Assembly; and we look forward to working with both branches to strengthen public investment and improve policy to ensure that mental health and substance use treatment is accessible to all.
Last week, during the Governor’s first budget address, he emphasized implementing a “fair tax” – a graduated income tax structure – as the centerpiece of his proposal to grow the additional revenue needed to cope with Illinois’ structural deficit and put the state on the path to fiscal stability. This was welcome news following the budget stalemate and years of spending cuts that have devastated access to mental health and substance use treatment and Illinois’ social service sector more broadly. New and sustainable revenue is critical to paying down the backlog of bills, stabilizing public pensions, and investing in the vital public services Illinoisans need to live healthy and thrive.
Strengthening Illinois’ Children’s Mental Health and Substance Use Treatment System
In spite of previous efforts to increase state investment in mental health and substance use treatment, significant gaps in services persist – making needed care difficult, and sometimes impossible, to access. This year, the Healthy Minds Healthy Lives Coalition has introduced the Children and Young Adult Mental Health Crisis Act (HB2572/SB1633), comprehensive children’s mental health legislation addressing major barriers to accessing preventative care and early treatment regardless of the type of health coverage a family has.
Growing Access to Treatment through Increased State Investment
For decades, the availability of mental health services has fallen far short of the need. This lack of treatment capacity is due in large part to insufficient Medicaid reimbursement rates, which fail to cover the cost of providing care and hamper providers’ ability to grow access to services. We are excited to work in coalition with providers and advocates across our state to pass the Mental Health Modernization and Access Improvement Act (HB2486/SB1673), a legislative initiative aimed at addressing the systemic barriers to expanding access to care.
The Future of the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid
Following the midterm election, Democrats won control of the House of Representatives while Republicans retain the majority in the Senate. This divide in power is likely to put to rest Congressional attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act and cut Medicaid. Nonetheless, administrative actions from the federal government continue to undermine health coverage. Advocates must remain vigilant and continue to oppose any policies that reduce access to the comprehensive care necessary for leading a healthy, prosperous life.