The Affordable Care Act (ACA) changed the landscape of healthcare for people living with mental health, substance use and other health conditions – establishing unprecedented consumer protections, expanding the types of care covered, and extending health coverage to more Americans than ever before. These advances paved the way for improved access to treatment and that is something worth fighting for.
Efforts to diminish access to healthcare and repeal the ACA by Congress and the Trump Administration have again been renewed. We must remain vigilant! These new threats include:
- Continued attempts to eliminate the protection of coverage for those with pre-existing medical conditions;
- Allowing the sale of junk insurance plans that fall far short of covering basic health services; and
- A new ACA repeal plan being pushed in Congress.
Despite these attacks, Illinois advocates made important strides in the first half of the year:
- Passage of state consumer protection legislation for short-term health insurance plans;
- Illinois’ Attorney General joined several states in an important lawsuit to protect the gains made through the ACA; and
- Introduction of legislation in Illinois to prevent future attempts to cut Medicaid.
These are important steps forward but our work is not done. As our fight continues, we will be calling on you to take action when our advocacy is needed.
Thank you for continuing to raise your voice!
Heather O’Donnell, Senior Vice President of Public Policy and Advocacy, is Thresholds’ resident policy expert and one of the primary architects behind the Road Map to Mental Health Reform. She is an attorney by trade and has a wealth of experience in health care and non-profit advocacy.
Illinois Approves Bi-Partisan Budget Preserving Funding for Mental Health and Substance Use Treatment
CHICAGO – Today, Thresholds applauds Governor Rauner and members of the General Assembly for prioritizing the best interests of Illinoisans by coming together to agree on a timely, bi-partisan state budget that preserves critical funding for mental health and substance use treatment and supportive housing.
The budget contains some big wins for mental health and substance use treatment, including:
- Preservation of a 3% mental health Medicaid rate increase, helping to stabilize funding for community-based treatment
- Extension of the psychiatric Medicaid rate add-on payments, preventing a $27M cut to mental health services
- Increase in substance use prevention and treatment grants
- Maintained funding for supportive housing
“We are pleased that elected officials in Springfield heeded our calls to maintain funding for treatment and took action to preserve vital investments and avoid devastating cuts. For decades, Illinois has struggled with an often overlooked mental health crisis and now many of our communities are being hit with the deadly opioid epidemic. Now is the time to invest in what works – treatment that saves lives and helps people get healthy,” says Heather O’Donnell, Senior Vice President of Public Policy and Advocacy at Thresholds.
The fiscal year 2019 budget is a welcome sign of a renewed bi-partisan commitment to addressing gaps in access to treatment. We commend the Governor and General Assembly for taking a step in the right direction by working across party lines to invest in the healthcare and human services that make our communities stronger in this year’s budget.
Media Contact: Emily Moen
Thresholds’ Research Department was instrumental in the execution of a randomized controlled mental health trial comparing mobile health (mHealth) treatment (FOCUS) to the traditional clinic-based approach (WRAP), in a first-of-its-kind study implemented with academic partners. The research project also included support from Thresholds clinical operations at the Peer Success and New Freedom Center programs, as well as trained WRAP facilitators within the Thresholds workforce. The results, recently published in the scientific journal, Psychiatric Services, showed that mobile health options are equally effective and offer convenience and increased access to live-saving treatment.
FOCUS is a phone app that allows individuals to participate in daily assessments and exclusive, 24-hour content, such as video and audio clips. It also allows individuals the option to receive support from an mHealth specialist. WRAP is a form of group therapy treatment led by a trained person with lived experience of mental illnesses, emphasizing self-management and wellness training.
The study, led by PI Dr. Dror Ben-Zeev, included a group of 163 individuals with a history of serious mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and major depressive disorder, who were asked to participate in one of the two methods of intervention over a 12-week period. Assessments were completed before the trial, immediately following the trial, and six months post-intervention.
All participants showed improvements in their overall mental health. The WRAP group showed significant advancement in recovery in their post-intervention assessments, while the FOCUS users reported improvements in both recovery and quality of life. One differential finding was the rate of activity and participation, which was significantly higher in the FOCUS group (90%) than the WRAP group (58%) through the first eight weeks of the trial.
“We are very excited about the results of this study. Findings support significant improvements in key areas related to members’ recovery using two unique intervention strategies,” said Thresholds Research Director, Dr. Lisa Razzano. “It also demonstrates the benefits of our clinical investment in evidence-informed practices and advances science.”
In keeping up with the modernization of healthcare in the 21st century, mobile health options are becoming increasingly popular and accessible. We hope the ease and convenience of using a smartphone to receive treatment services at any and all times will help to destigmatize mental health, and reach more individuals. Accessibility to technology is critical, since it advances healthcare and wellness overall.
Thresholds is so proud to have been part of this groundbreaking study. We are looking forward to the future of mental healthcare!
Lawmakers Pass Bill Positioning Illinois as a Leader in Innovative Early Treatment for Mental Health and Substance Use
Lawmakers Pass Bill Positioning Illinois as a Leader in Innovative Early Treatment for Mental Health and Substance Use
On strongly bi-partisan votes, the Illinois House and Senate have approved SB2951 – a groundbreaking piece of legislation that will make Illinois one of the first states in the country to create a treatment model specifically designed for youth and young adults experiencing their first symptoms of significant mental health conditions. SB2951 also allows for the delivery of clinical substance use treatment in community-based settings.
This legislation brings Illinois’ treatment system in line with a growing body of research that demonstrates the importance of treating the whole person with a comprehensive set of wrap-around services and meeting a person where they are by delivering treatment in the home or out in the community.
As Illinois works to combat the deadly opioid epidemic and a long-standing mental health crisis, the passage of this legislation represents a sea change. With limited coverage for early treatment, for far too long people struggling with mental health and substance use conditions have had few options for getting the care they need to live well and get back on track.
The right treatment at the right time can make a lifetime of difference.
Accessing a package of treatment services tailored to meet the needs of a person first experiencing a serious mental health condition or substance use condition can mean the difference between a longer, healthier life and a devastating and preventable spiral of repeat hospitalizations, homelessness, criminal justice involvement, and disability.
The treatment models included in the bill compliment the exciting new mental health and substance use pilot projects outlined in Illinois’ 1115 Medicaid Waiver, recently approved by the federal government. A proposal to strengthen access to First Episode Psychosis treatment, originally included in Illinois’ Waiver application but ultimately not approved, makes this legislation even more critical by filling these gaps in services.
SB2951 was introduced by Healthy Minds Healthy Lives (HMHL) and sponsored by Senator Melinda Bush (D – Grayslake) and Representative Sara Feigenholtz (D – Chicago) with support from legislative champion Senator Dale Righter (R – Mattoon). HMHL is a statewide advocacy coalition comprised of a diverse cross-section of stakeholders including people with lived experience, family support organizations, trade associations, policy experts, and treatment providers including Thresholds.
SB2951 now goes to the Governor for consideration.
For more on the SB2951, please see the bill fact sheet.
For more on the Healthy Minds Healthy Lives Coalition, visit their webpage.
By former Thresholds Board of Directors President, Marianne Doan
I have been honored to contribute to Thresholds in a variety of ways for almost 10 years. Before that time, I occasionally volunteered at a variety of organizations and donated to many causes that I felt were important. I started to feel that I wanted to really make a meaningful difference in the lives of others, and began to focus my time and donations.
There were so many opportunities, so I took some time to think about what really matters. I was so lucky to grow up in a big and loving family! Our oldest sister, Kathy, experienced a major trauma and the onset of mental illness in her mid-teen years. I remember vividly the way my friends looked at her and embarrassingly looked away, or how my brothers and sisters and I tried to avoid getting her upset. Kathy has lived her entire adult live with serious mental illness, and the continued stares and avoidance and neglect are hard to overcome. My parents raised us with strong family values of love for each other, service to others and constant pursuit of social justice. I wanted to give to an organization that shares these values and is committed to creating a future of hope and opportunity for people like Kathy. I fell in love with Thresholds and have been a donor ever since. This feeling grows every time I meet one of the Threshold staff, and I am inspired by their compassionate care!
Over the years, I have tried to share my passion with others in hopes that they, too, will give to Thresholds. I sometimes find a real hesitation, maybe even fear, to support mental health causes, due to the headlines that correlate mental illness and violence, and the stigma attached to it. But when I share stories about the clients Thresholds serves – young mothers and veterans and teens experiencing their first episode – and the services they provide – housing and supported employment – a funny thing happens. Literally everyone has a relative, friend or colleague who has been touched by mental illness. When you think about these people you know, and learn how Thresholds promotes dignity and provides opportunities for them to achieve self sufficiency, it is frankly hard not to give. When you think of it this way, it is more of an investment in our community with a pretty awesome return!
Marianne Doan has been a loyal supporter of Thresholds for more than a decade. She served as the President of the Board of Directors, and still remains on the board today.
Ensuring All Young People are Equipped to Live Well and Thrive: The Case for Expanding Early Treatment
By Thresholds’ Program Director of Emerge and MindStrong, Jose Viruet
The transition into adulthood is often turbulent for many young people. For youth with mental health conditions, that transition can be even more difficult. To help ease the transition and ensure that all young people have what they need to succeed and thrive, early identification of mental health conditions and treatment that is tailored to the unique needs of youth and young adults are critical.
Emerging adults are in a period when they are navigating school, first jobs, blossoming social lives, romantic relationships, changing family connections, the desire for independence, and so much more. For some, the experience of these newfound challenges and responsibilities is further complicated by the onset of a mental health condition.
With this in mind, a comprehensive set of services delivered together as a package has been shown to be very effective for supporting young people learning to manage their mental health conditions. This type of approach helps stabilize the young person’s condition, equip the family to better understand their child’s condition, and set the youth up for a bright and healthy future. These youth-driven, wrap-around models are research-backed and considered best practice. They go beyond traditional methods of providing mental healthcare by building upon the basics of individual counseling and medication with impactful additions like group therapy, peer support, case management, family education, supportive education, supportive employment, and youth development opportunities.
Mental health conditions are highly treatable and recovery is possible. Particularly for young people at the beginning of their journeys, early treatment can make a lifetime of difference. Getting the right care at the right time can mean the difference between a longer, healthier life, the ability to engage positively at school, work, and home, and the risk of repeated hospitalizations, criminal justice involvement, homelessness, and disability. The good news is we know what works; we just need more of it.
Targeted treatment approaches are essential to supporting young people living with significant mental health conditions and to enabling them to live well and thrive. Successful treatment is not just about managing symptoms. It is also about managing all the ways those symptoms can affect a person’s life and family, and equipping the person with the tools he/she needs to overcome those symptoms in order to meet his/her goals and excel. Sadly, there is not nearly enough early treatment available today and many young people are being left behind. More must be done to improve access to early treatment that works – there is simply too much at stake.
Jose Viruet is Program Director for Emerge and MindStrong, Thresholds’ first episode psychosis treatment program. In this role, he leads teams of highly qualified of clinicians at our youth and young adult programs which focus on supporting young people with significant mental health conditions and their families. He is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor, a Certified Reciprocal Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselor, and a longtime mental health and youth advocate. More on Thresholds’ youth and young adult programs here.
Approval of 1115 Medicaid Waiver lends promise to future mental health treatment system in Illinois.
Yesterday, mental health and substance use advocates were excited to receive Governor Rauner’s announcement that the federal government approved Illinois’ long-anticipated 1115 Medicaid Waiver proposal. This waiver is the cornerstone of the Administration’s Behavioral Health Transformation Plan, with nearly $2 billion in new investment to implement 10 pilots over the next 5 years. These waiver projects will seed innovative treatment services and build a more comprehensive continuum of care.
The waiver dovetails with the Administration’s Integrated Health Homes State Plan Amendment to improve the coordination of physical and mental healthcare, expand community-based and in-home services, and reduce the need for emergency and high-end services.
Approved services include:
- substance use treatment and recovery services
- case management for individuals with substance use conditions
- housing services and community integration assistance
- supported employment services
- crisis stabilization and intervention
- peer recovery support services
- evidence-based home visits
- respite services
Regrettably, the State’s proposal to expand First Episode Psychosis (FEP) treatment was not approved by the federal government for inclusion in the waiver. Recognizing the importance of getting care when symptoms first begin, this year Thresholds has worked with the Healthy Minds Healthy Lives Coalition to introduce two legislative bills seeking to expand access to early treatment for significant mental health conditions under both Medicaid and private insurance. In the absence of an FEP pilot, we look forward to the opportunity to work with the Administration and General Assembly to advance access to life-saving early treatment.
We commend the Administration for their work on the waiver. This multi-agency initiative has enjoyed widespread support among stakeholders and bi-partisan support among lawmakers. As Illinois continues to struggle with a longstanding mental health crisis and an increasingly deadly opioid epidemic, the waiver represents a promising opportunity to move Illinois’ treatment system in the right direction. However, it is important to remember that this is just one step of many that needs to be taken to build access to treatment more broadly, including ensuring adequate reimbursement rates, growing the workforce, and improving coverage of proven treatment approaches.
As Illinois enters into annual budget negotiations, we hope that the collaborative spirit of the waiver will serve as an inspiration for our leaders in Springfield to come together to ensure Illinois’ mental health and substance use treatment system is sustainable and stably funded.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, but Advocating for Better Access to Mental Health Treatment is a Year-Round Effort
By Illinois State Senator, Melinda Bush
As an Illinois state legislator, one of the things I want to tackle is the state’s mental health crisis. May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a unique opportunity we have each year to call attention to an important issue that goes overlooked far too often. But the need for more awareness about mental health and getting help when it is needed is not a campaign limited to just the month of May – it is an ongoing effort that deserves our attention the whole year long.
This year I have had the pleasure of working with Thresholds and the Healthy Minds Healthy Lives (HMHL) Coalition on two pieces of legislation aimed at improving treatment options for Illinoisans. These bills will strengthen coverage for early mental health and substance use treatment for youth and young adults. I am proud to sponsor both of these proposals because everyone deserves access to treatment and the type of insurance you have should not determine what kind of care you are able to receive. We know that most serious mental health conditions show up in a person’s teens or early twenties, so there is no reason someone should have to go years without the services and supports they need to be healthy and get well.
I am excited that our bills are strongly bi-partisan and gaining momentum in Springfield. As the bills’ sponsor, it is my job to steer the bills through the state legislature and work to get them signed into law. But I could not do this without the partnership of mental health advocates like the HMHL Coalition. Advocates play a critical role in shaping good public policy by keeping legislators up to date on the needs of our communities and educating us about opportunities to make a difference for those we serve.
Over the past few months, members of the Coalition, including parents, treatment and youth service providers, and persons with lived experience of mental health conditions, met with dozens of lawmakers from across the state to share their stories and to ask for support for the HMHL bills. Those conversations provided valuable insights from constituents about what they are dealing with and what lawmakers can do to improve access to treatment. First-hand accounts bring issues to life, helping lawmakers to understand them better and inspiring us to take action on some of the biggest challenges facing our communities, including an unspoken mental health crisis and a lethal opioid epidemic.
Never underestimate the impact you can have by sharing your story. You are an expert in your experience and raising your voice is powerful. Advocates like the members of the HMHL Coalition are moving mental health and substance use treatment to the top of the agenda. As we kick-off Mental Health Awareness Month, remember that the need for awareness raising and advocacy is ongoing. Together we can bring about much-needed changes to the treatment system but that can only happen if we make mental health a priority all year round.
State Senator Melinda Bush has served for 5 years representing the 31st District in the northern suburbs of Chicago. She is a member of Senate Human Services Committee and sponsor of this year’s Healthy Minds Healthy Lives legislation, SB2951 – Early Mental Health and Addictions Treatment Act and SB3213 – Fair Insurance Coverage for Families for Early Treatment of Serious Mental Health Conditions Act.
For more on the Healthy Minds Healthy Lives Coalition, please visit the Coalition’s webpage.
By Jasmine Watkins, Clinical Director at Motivent Total Health
As an undergraduate psychology major, I was required to take Abnormal Psychology, an ironically named class where I learned how common it is to experience some degree of mental health concern. I remember being surprised by how closely DSM diagnostic criteria fit the stories of those around me. I also remember realizing symptoms exist on a spectrum; just because something isn’t clinically significant according to a diagnostic manual, doesn’t mean it can’t still cause psychological pain.
This past year, I had the opportunity to help launch Motivent Total Health, Thresholds’ multi-specialty group practice in the western suburbs of Illinois. As someone who has worked in a variety of mental health settings, I was excited to be part of this initiative as it represents a broadening of Thresholds services. Since 1959, the majority of Thresholds’ services have been focused on persons with a diagnosis of a severe and persistent mental illness. At Motivent Total Health, clinicians provide counseling to individuals dealing with more mild mood and anxiety disorders, major life transitions, workplace stress, and relationship issues.
Launching the practice has reminded me of what I learned in that undergraduate class. People accessing varying levels of care may differ in the goals they are working towards and the barriers they encounter as they strive to achieve them. However, the path to change is consistent. Motivational interviewing continues to play an essential role in helping individuals commit to change. Acknowledging a person’s strengths and building on them is equally as integral. And it is similarly crucial to establish an individualized treatment plan aimed at assisting people with developing coping strategies.
No matter the resources we assume a person may or may not have, mental health transcends all areas of society. This is why mental health treatment continues to be so important. Everyone can benefit from a safe environment where they can explore past patterns, navigate through life’s challenges, focus on reducing stress, and concentrate on living a meaningful life.
Jasmine Watkins is the Clinical Director at Motivent Total Health. She is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor with ten years’ experience working with adolescents and adults on a wide range of clinical issues including, anxiety, substance use, grief and loss, specific phobias, depression, relationship concerns, and issues related to major life transitions. Learn more about Motivent Total Health here.
Donor Spotlight: James P. & Brenda S. Grusecki Family Foundation
The James P. and Brenda S. Grusecki Family Foundation is committed to supporting education, the arts, housing, and other vital social services. Since its founding in 2002, the foundation has had a transformative impact on organizations servicing the Chicago area.
In 2015, the Grusecki Family Foundation made its first gift to Thresholds in support of the Veterans Project. The Veterans Project integrates Thresholds’ award-winning, evidence-based practices and strategic partnerships into a comprehensive program designed specifically for U.S. military veterans experiencing PTSD, depression, and other mental illnesses. Veterans Project staff represent every branch of service and include individuals in recovery from mental illness. Examples of the program’s services include case management, rapid and long-term housing support, employment and education preparation, trauma therapy, and substance use treatment. In 2010, the Veterans Project launched the Women Veterans Health Initiative, which provides a range of services tailored to the unique needs of the women veteran population.
We are excited to highlight The James P. and Brenda S. Grusecki Family Foundation this month. Over the past three years, they have generously increased their giving to Thresholds, contributing $80,000 to the Veterans Project. We are grateful for their consistent support and for their commitment to our nation’s brave service members.