A growing number of Illinoisans needing mental and behavioral health help will now have more options, under a new law signed Friday by Gov. JB Pritzker.

Senate Bill 3617 acknowledges a hard truth in many Illinois communities: the need for mental and behavioral healthcare far exceeds the resources to meet it, according to a release from State Rep. Mike Halpin, D-Rock Island. There are only 14 behavioral healthcare professionals for every 10,000 Illinois residents, and many people must wait longer for essential treatment or skip treatment entirely.

State Rep. Mike Halpin, D-Rock Island, announcing his candidacy for Illinois State Senate on Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2021. (Jonathan Turner,

Halpin joined colleagues in the Illinois General Assembly to support this new law, which has been signed and will take effect immediately.

The measure expands the mental and behavioral healthcare workforce by making it easier for out-of-state clinicians to obtain licensure in Illinois, and streamlining requirements for social workers, professional counselors, and clinical psychologists who have recently inactive licenses.

It also encourages more diversity in the mental health field, creates tax credits for care providers, and makes other improvements in the law to encourage more accessible, quality mental and behavioral healthcare.

“Too many people suffer in silence, and the COVID-19 pandemic has created so many challenges for people who just need help,” Halpin said in a Friday release. “I am proud to support investing in our mental and behavioral health system to provide high-quality care in all parts of Illinois.”

The bill temporarily allows professional licensees out of practice for less than five years to reactivate their license with the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR). The bill also seeks to expand behavioral health training, incentivizes the hiring of individuals in recovery from substance use disorder or mental illness, and makes it easier for advanced practice registered nurses to treat patients.

In this Feb. 22, 2021, file photo, Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks at Chicago State University in Chicago. (Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Chicago Sun-Times via AP, File)

“We need a mental healthcare workforce that is robust enough to get people help when they need it — not after months on a waiting list,” Gov. Pritzker said Friday. “I am proud to sign this mental health omnibus bill — training, expanding, and diversifying our behavioral health workforce—into law. This legislation invests in mental health infrastructure — and that infrastructure is people. Our therapists. Our social workers. Our crisis counselors."

"There is nothing more important than investing in the people who support the health and wellbeing of Illinoisans," he said.

Improving access to services

The state aims to improve access to critical behavioral health services across Illinois, demonstrated by efforts that include expanding telehealth parity from emergency to permanent, as well as the recent appointments of state Behavioral Health Officer David Jones and Children’s Behavioral Health Transformation Initiative Director Dana Weiner.

The new state budget, which takes effect July 1, 2022, includes a significant investment in mental health and substance abuse prevention and treatment services that aim to increase access to the behavioral health system in every region of the state.

The new legislation removes barriers to those wishing to re-enter the mental health workforce, such as continuing education credit completion, passing additional examinations, and fee payments. Former license holders must be in good standing to have their licenses reactivated. Mental health professionals out of practice for less than five years may restore their license with IDFPR only once without providing more information to the Department.

Illinois Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton

“Even before the COVID-19 pandemic caused a spike in the need for mental and emotional support across the nation, BIPOC and rural communities faced greater disparities in accessing mental health care," Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton said in the state release.

"Our administration has always been, and will always be, committed to fighting disparities and putting people first. And this legislation does that. Illinois is not only increasing the workforce in the mental and behavioral health field, but expanding pathways for diverse, passionate, and qualified individuals to make a difference in their communities — especially ones that have historically been underserved and under-resourced.”

In addition, the measure enables advanced practice registered nurses to conduct any required psychiatric visits to patients in Special Mental Health Rehabilitation Facilities, in addition to physicians.

New tax incentives

The Recovery and Mental Health Tax Credit is also created under SB 3617, which creates a program to provide tax incentives to qualified employers who employ eligible individuals who are in recovery from a substance use disorder or mental illness. IDHS will work with the Illinois Department of Revenue (IDOR) to verify tax credit certificates issued to employers.

The 2021 QC health assessment found that over 42 percent of adults have experienced chronic depression (Credit: Getty Images).

Additionally, the bill allows the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) Division of Mental Health to award grants or contracts to enhance training and supervision of behavioral health providers-in-training seeking licensure in specified fields.

IDHS will oversee the application process; grants are subject to appropriations. Additionally, a 15-member Advisory Council will be established to advise DHS, examining mental illness and substance use disorder impacts on employment opportunities within minority communities.

“The past couple of years have strained our health professions and underscored the incredible need for a strong mental health workforce to meet increased demand,” said Rep. Deb Conroy (D-Elmhurst) and lead bill sponsor. “We want residents of all ages and of all backgrounds to receive the care and help they deserve, and we can only do that if we have enough qualified professionals able to assist. This measure removes bureaucratic hurdles and will help bring trained professionals back to the field right when we need them the most.”

Seeking help takes strength

“It takes bravery and strength to reach out for help. Being told you have to wait weeks – or months – for care is extremely discouraging,” said Sen. Laura Fine (D-Glenview) and lead bill sponsor. “We need to support people struggling with mental and behavioral health issues, as well as address difficulties our mental health providers are facing trying to see as many patients as possible. This law will work to fix both issues and ensure that Illinoisans will have more access to quality mental health care.”

"Mental health is health. Full stop. What we have lived and learned in these past past two years is that we must build a mental health system that works for the people of our state,” said State Sen. Sara Feigenholtz (D-Chicago). “This legislation and the investment Governor Pritzker made in the FY2023 budget for providers and services help us make enormous strides in addressing this amplified crisis."

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June 10, 2022 at 05:33PM