Cook County Agencies Meet to Tackle Community’s Behavioral Health Issues

By Jessie Fetterling

CHICAGO — Cook County plans to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to providing its community with mental health and/or substance abuse issues.

The Cook County Health & Hospitals System (CCHHS) already opened a Community Triage Center in Chicago’s Roseland neighborhood last summer, providing evaluation, crisis stabilization and treatment for patients with psychiatric and/or substance-related crises 24 hours a day, seven days a week. But the system plans to do more to bridge the county’s health system with its criminal justice system to address behavioral health issues in the community.

Studies show that 6.4 percent of men and 12.2 percent of women entering U.S. jails have a severe and persistent mental illness, compared to less than 2 percent of the general population, according to a statement. Even more, 72 percent of these individuals simultaneously have a substance-use disorder.

Last month, CCHHS held a two-day workshop with key agencies involved in the criminal justice system to discuss the current gaps in providing behavioral health services in Cook County.

Last month, CCHHS held a two-day workshop with key agencies involved in the criminal justice system to discuss the current gaps in providing behavioral health services in Cook County. The workshop’s ultimate goal was to determine potential opportunities for redirecting people with behavioral health issues to proper treatment so that jails and prisons in the community can be better used.

The group that met created a “sequential intercept mapping” (or SIM) focusing on five so-called “intercepts” or areas where alternative justice or behavioral health interventions can occur. One intercept example is the pre-arrest stage when law enforcement is called to respond in cases that revolve more around mental health or substance abuse. The three major gaps the group identified included housing across several of the intercepts, behavioral health screenings that aren’t aligned at various facilities and a need for more services at intercept zero to help prevent engagement in the justice system altogether, according to CCHHS representatives.

By creating the detailed map of gaps, the group agreed that one way to fix them is by getting stakeholders to buy in and strategize together so different initiatives are aligned and efforts are not duplicated. Informing stakeholders of the gaps and the resources available to fix them as well as have entities specifically identify their role in resolving the gaps and the work required to do so can also help close the gaps.

The MacArthur Safety Justice Steering Committee is reviewing the results from the meeting and working to identify an intervention that can be incorporated into the Cook County Safety and Justice Challenge application. The goal of the Safety and Justice Challenge is to reduce the jail population through the system interventions proposed.

These developments are the latest in a long list of efforts by the county to help ease behavioral issues in the community. The Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance even awarded CCHHS and the Circuit Court of Cook County funding to support the Cook County Justice and Mental Health Collaborative last fall, according to a statement.

CCHHS was also awarded a $4 million, four-year grant from SAMHSA in January to fund a new Assisted Outpatient Treatment program that will support individuals with severe mental illness in Cook County. The program will enhance and coordinate services available to patients from a number of local and state partners. And the health system plans to offer behavioral health treatment in its community health centers, expand addiction medicine service and naloxone distribution, and establish a consortium of behavioral health care providers to serve more than 140,000 members of CountyCare, CCHHS’ Medicaid managed care health plan.