FILE - Karina Villa, Virus Outbreak Illinois Legislature

State Rep. Karina Villa, D-West Chicago, donned a thin translucent mask over her face as she discussed an unnamed employer that told workers such a mask would offer protection from COVID-19 during debate at the spring legislative session at the Bank of Springfield Center Friday, May 22, 2020. 

(The Center Square) – The mental health and behavioral health industry in Illinois continues to deal with worker shortages.

Mental health advocates recently told Illinois lawmakers the shortage started well before the pandemic, and now health care workers are dealing with limited funding, stress and burnout.

Jud DeLoss, CEO of the Illinois Association for Behavioral Health, said Illinois has the second-worst shortage of mental health workers in the country.

“Right now we have a dwindling ability to retain as well as recruit behavioral health care field staff,” DeLoss said. “This has been at the same time as we experienced obviously a very public health emergency.”

They are asking for $120 million in funding by Dec. 1 or they say many providers will not survive until next year.

Donnell Barnett, deputy director with mental health clinical operations with the Illinois Department of Human Services, said it is tough all over when it comes to staffing.

“There is a nationwide health care staffing shortage,” Barnett said. “We are experiencing an increased vacancy rate which is putting pressure and strain on the hospital system.”

The vaccination mandate for health care workers is expected to put further strain on staffing levels. DHS Secretary Grace Hou said the department is preparing to bring in new people to address an expected shortage caused by the vaccination mandate.

A new report by the Rural Health Summit showed nearly every county in Illinois doesn’t have enough mental health providers. The report said the shortages expand into primary care and dentistry as well. The report, produced by a consortium of health care professionals, finds the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated and illuminated the depth of Illinois’ rural health care worker shortage.

"It’s critical that we find a way to ensure the number of mental health professionals can keep up with the ever increasing demand of people seeking treatment,” said Sen. Karina Villa, D-West Chicago. “We must address this issue before it drastically affects our neighbors, friends, family or even ourselves.”

Staff Reporter

Kevin Bessler reports on statewide issues in Illinois for the Center Square. He has over 30 years of experience in radio news reporting throughout the Midwest.